Monday, 5 April 2010
From The Archives: Underwood (With Appearances By E. E. Cummings)

Mention of E. E.Cummings (in arte e. e. cummings) prompts this re-posting: 


Several years ago, after I posted a  parody of e.e. cummings, another poster -- a Mr. Owens --  posted something that mentioned "the Underwood" typewriter used by Cummings which  prompted further remarks:

"Mr. Owens has referred very beautifully to E. E. Cummings' old Underwood, thereby picking up the theme adumbrated in a posting under another item (Warnings to Christian Missionaries), which mentions -- not the first time -- the role in spreading the gospel of the Reverend Horace Underwood, Presbyterian missionary and founder of Chosen Christian College, now -- under a different name -- one of South Korea's leading universities.

Perhaps future occasions will permit the appearance of Ben Jonson's "Underwood" or Mandelstam's line "gde-to shchelknul Undervud" ("somewhere a typewriter clickclacked" -- for in Russia in that period, the brand "Underwood" generically stood for "typewriter"), or the actual, tiny, modest Underwood of Venustiano Carranza, that Kerensky of Mexico's first post-revolutionary government, that sits in the museum dedicated to V.C., with all of his artifacts, in sunny Veracruz. An Underwood makes the whole world kin.

E. E. Cummings' own Underwood may well have click-clacked, with or without the CAPS key, in the house he was born in, on the corner of Irving and Scott Streets, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and from which he would have been able to see, from his own upper-floor window, just across Irving, the house of a certain Professor William James, whose "Varieties of Religious Experience" would, I think, have accomodated the belief-system of Islam only with great difficulty.

Another poster ("A"), then interjected:


This is interesting. I would have thought Mandelstam used a Woodstock, like Alger Hiss.

I replied:

A--we could both be right.

Mandelstam did not reveal the brand of typewriter he used -- just that in his poem, "somewhere an Undervud (i.e. a typewriter known in Russia by that famous brandname, on the model of xerox for all copiers) clickclacked." I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that Mandelstam was, like Alger Hiss (I think his wife Priscilla did the typing), a Russian spy. Russian yes, spy no. It is conceivable, as you suggest, that Mandelstam himself, though he referred to an "Undervud" (Underwood) might have chosen it because the scansion demanded three syllables, and he himself, if the poem was written after 1915, when the first Woodstock went on the market, might have used one. So, as I say, we might both be right. Or all three of us, because Mr. Owens started the associational ball rolling and coming to rest only -- now.

But what if Mr. Owens just plucked "Underwood" out of the air? Cummings was born in 1894; the first Underwood was on the market in 1895; other models followed in 1912 and 1922. It was very popular. The first Woodstock appeared in 1915. By that time Cummings had graduated from Harvard, and would spend only one more year in Cambridge getting his M.A. before becoming an ambulance driver.

If Cummings was typing on that typewriter while looking out the window at the house of his neighbor William James, it would have to have been before 1910, the year William James died. Mr. Owens suggested the Underwood and it is plausible indeed; that company had much of the market, which is why, in distant Russia, it had become generic for "typewriter."

If Mr.Owens had suggested that Cummings should have gotten the Caps key on his "Woodstock" fixed, that might have set another associational train of thought, or at least a determined I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can choo-choo, right out of the roundhouse and onto the mental tracks. Instead of "Underwood" by Ben Jonson, that little train would have recalled another of his works, "Timber, or Discoveries." The "Woodstock" brand could have also evoked Queen Elizabeth I's poem "Written With a Diamond on a Window at Woodstock" and Bob Dylan, with his flight-from-Woodstock concerts on the Isle of Wight, and the Isle of Wight would have led to the vectensian verse of Keats, including the line "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" and the mention of both Keats and Bob Dylan would lead have evoked Christopher Ricks (who at times uses the "too-clever-by-half" method of criticism that is being imitated, just for fun, in this note), and then the part played by the Isle of Wight in the famous decapitation of Charles I, in January 1649 would come up, and then...

Well, don't blame me. Blame Mr. Owens. He started it.

In any case, one hopes that what began all this, the perfect reworking, through rewording, of e.e. cummings by Mrs. Obelix into a poem that appositely expresses the crazy will-to-not-believe of many, will be printed out by jihadwatch visitors, for handy distribution to all those who continue to deny that for which the evidence is far more overwhelming, even, than the evidence supplied by those Pumpkin Papers, typed by Priscilla Hiss in 1938, on that Underw --- ooops, I mean Woodstock.

Posted on 04/05/2010 7:58 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
5 Apr 2010
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e. e. cummings, never knowingly underwood...