The Cambridge ladies By E. E. Cummings

E. E. Cummings’ The Cambridge ladies 

    It is likely that his poem “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls”, by E. E. Cummings, is purely a response and a commentary about the social set of people he was exposed to in his college days.  Clearly he holds disdain for these women who “live in furnished souls are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds” (Lines 1-2). “Furnished souls” is a reference to the ladies station in life, wanting for nothing. Yet in being blessed with everything, they are not good people, but rather “unbeautiful”, however they are either too snobby or ignorant to realize this, and thus are able to live with “comfortable minds” or not a care for the world.

    The women claim to be faithful Protestants, but as daughters of the faith, are “unscented, shapeless spirited they believe in Longfellow and Christ, both dead” (4-5). While they give lip-service to what wonderful members of the church community they are, in reality their faith is lacking substance, like an odorless flower, it is an ephemeral concept to them without shape, possessive of a will beyond their grasp and control. To console themselves, they find comfort in Longfellow and Christ, not so much because they have such a strong belief in them, but because they are safe things to believe in.

    As well-to-do socialites, it is important that these ladies are seen out and about often, doing good things for the community. They would have us believe it is their raison d’etre and, so, “are invariably interested in so many things—at the present writing one still finds delighted fingers knitting for is it Poles? perhaps. while permanent faces coyly bandy scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D” (6-10). The phrase “delighted fingers” is misleading, in that they must have us think so. To be anything other than delighted would be contrary to the image of a good Protestant in the community. They keep themselves so busy to fill the empty time they cannot even remember for whom they are knitting this week. Throughout it all they wear their “permanent faces”, their social masks that allow them to fit into the upper crust society, of which they belong, gaily keeping up with the gossip about their contemporaries.

     Finally Cummings shows his distaste and contempt for these women and the fact that they are so far removed from what he considers the “real” world. He sees these women as being in an ethereal cloud above everyone else, their minds clouded with the need to be perfect within their society and fit in. They have never known hardship, so cannot truly understand the problems of the world, even as they do church work to help the unfortunate: “…the Cambridge ladies do not care, above Cambridge if sometimes in its box of sky lavender and corner less, the moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy” (11-14). Such concerns are beneath them, outside their ignorant scope of mind. As the moon is a satellite far removed from Earth, so is the common man, such as Cummings, far removed from these postured and affluent ladies of Cambridge. The poet uses the final phrases such as “sky lavender and corner less” (13) and “rattles like a fragment of angry candy” (14) to cause further disassociation with the reader, empathetically drawing them into his feelings about them.

   Overall this poem is a sarcastic look at the upper-crust society that Cummings encountered during his time in college. Being younger then, he saw these women as pompous representations of that society: more concerned with image and fitting in with their peers than about the substantive problems of the world.

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