1. Young-Mason, Jeanine EdD, RN, CS, FAAN

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This is E.E. Cummings' reply to a letter from a high school editor asking how to become a poet.1


A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.


This may sound easy. It is not.


A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.


Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you are a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you are nobody-but-yourself.


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 is not a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we are not poets.


If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you have written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed.


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 are not only willing but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.


Does this sound dismal? It is not.


It's the most wonderful life on earth.


Or so I feel.


Although Cummings' words of clarity and wisdom are directed to students of poetry, it is apparent to me that they resonate with the practice of nursing. I say this because, as nurses, we enter the personal experience and share the feelings of those who suffer. We share their profound feelings of anguish, pain, and sorrow. This is the true act of compassion. We do not impose our beliefs or knowledge or knowing upon those who suffer. We are immersed in the condition of being human with them. And, yes, we do this every day-willingly, and yes, it is costly-we suffer with the sufferer. We are blessed with the opportunity to relieve another's deepest fears and anguish. It is the most powerful, rewarding, and necessary act of the nurse.




E.E. Cummings, in full Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright wrote 2900 poems, autobiographical novels, 4 plays, and several essays. He is often regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. Cummings is associated with modernist free-form poetry. Much of his work has idiosyncratic syntax and uses lower-case spellings for poetic expression.2


The reader is guided to a lyrical essay by Cynthia Melendy, PhD, "E.E. Cummings: Poetandpainter," on the occasion of A Week of Art and Poetry, Friday, June 26, 2015,3 which discusses in depth his talent for and love of poetry and painting. Cummings spent part of every year at Joy Farm in Madison, New Hampshire. The Cummings Family Collection is housed at the Madison Historical Society and the Mount Washington Valley Arts Association.




1. Reply to a letter from a high-school editor asking how to become a poet. October 26th, 1955 edition of the Ottawa Hills High School Spectator, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Accessed June 26, 2015. [Context Link]


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