Nobody-But-Yourself: Part II

Explore E.E. Cummings' quest for authenticity in 'A Miscellany Revised'. Delve into the perseverance poets need on our insightful platform.

Nobody-But-Yourself: Part II
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We'll now read the second part of EE Cummings's letter to a young poet. Here Cummings emphasizes how easy it is to fall back into conformity.
To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine.
Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time—and whenever we do it, we’re not poets. If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.
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Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote something similar, “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” What makes the world such a dedicated opponent of authenticity? What’s so hard about being who you already are?
> nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else "Using words like somebody else" is like expressing yourself with autocomplete. How does it feel to listen to someone on autocomplete? How does it feel to speak predictably?
> If, [after a decade of fighting], you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed. Let's take this assertion literally. Imagine that after ten years tirelessly fighting, you’ve written one earnest line. Imagine still that you feel “very lucky” to have done it. What needs to be true for that one earnest line to be worth a decade of toil?
And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world—unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die. Does that sound dismal? It isn’t. It’s the most wonderful life on earth. Or so I feel.

Story From

E.E. Cummings Collection