Patriotism and Poetry: “next to of course god america i” by e. e. cummings

On the use of literary devices to contribute to the author’s purpose and how it is patriotic.

“next to of course god america i” is a poem aimed at revealing the potential of abusing patriotism to sway people’s thoughts. Patriotism can be used to manipulate people into doing things they usually wouldn’t. This implicit theme is enforced throughout the poem by allusions and other literary devices and suggests that the poem is not actually unpatriotic. The speaker is admonishing people on being wary of how patriotism is used and uses sarcasm to accent his position.

“next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

-e. e. cummings

In this poem, there are several elements that hint patriotism. In one instance, the use of allusions is shown in lines 2-4: “…love you land of pilgrims’…oh say can you see by the dawn’s early my country “tis…” The speaker also says he loves America in lines 1-2: “next to of course god america i love you land of pilgrims”…” There are also other hints such as calling soldiers who fought for the country heroic in line 10: “…these heroic happy dead who rushed like…”

The speaker also uses sarcasm to emphasize his point: in line 9-11 “why talk of beauty what could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead… like lions to the roaring slaughter”. The sarcasm is quite clear, the speaker asks what could be more beautiful than heroes running to their death; this image is not very “happy” to the reader. The author wrote this part in to portray to readers what patriotism can lead to: death of American lives. Cummings uses opposition in those lines strengthens the impact of the imagery conjured by the reader when reading those lines (line 9-11). For example, when the speaker says “…happy dead”, it doesn’t make sense. Death cannot be happy to most people. Another instance of opposition is in line 11: “rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter”. The “rushed like lions” part sets the main image of heroism and greatness. Then suddenly, the speaker says “slaughter”. This immediately negates any previous happy image from the reader’s mind. This kind of contrast sharpens the fact that Cummings is sarcastic. Normal people usually do not want to see their heroes die.

The poem uses colloquialism to make it seem as if an older American is angry about how patriotism is used and expresses anger through lines 7-8: “…by gory by jingo by gee by gosh by gum”. The diction of this line uses alliteration to show that the speaker expresses frustration about something– which sets the tone for most of the rest of the poem. In this case, the speaker is disappointed on how patriotic soldiers go fight for their country without question; this is shown in line 12: “…they did not stop to think they died instead”. The speaker wants people to be aware of what people are doing and if it is the right thing instead of being “deafanddumb” Also, the use of the word jingo, which is derived from the word jingoism (extreme patriotism), suggests that the speaker is against extreme patriotism. Patriotism that blinds people from what is right and wrong and prevents them from doing what they believe is in good for themselves and their country: line 13 “then shall the voice of liberty be mute?” These all support the author’s purpose: patriotism can be good but it can also be abused to manipulate people.

Finally in the last line of the poem, the speaker “… spoke, And drank rapidly a glass of water.” This line is important since it shows that the speaker is nervous and helps show that the speaker is addressing an audience. This is reinforced in the beginning since the style of line 1 is like an opening to a speech (speeches are usually presented in front of an audience). The last line shows that the whole poem, except the last line, was said quickly in one breath. This can mean that the speaker was nervous about saying exposing the faults of patriotism; speaking quickly is a characteristic of nervousness. The speaker drank a glass of water rapidly since his/her mouth was dry from saying so much in a short of amount of time. The speaker may be nervous because he may be marked as unpatriotic for saying something that others may interpret as unpatriotic. The author, Cummings, may have added this part to the poem to show that people can and should stand up against the abuse of patriotism.

Although the theme to this poem was implicit, it can be seen clearly through careful analysis that the poem itself is not unpatriotic. The poem wants people to become more educated in what patriotism can do, negatively. E. E. Cummings doesn’t mind if people are patriotic as long as they are not blinded by it. This poem is can be a warning to people to be more aware of what patriotism can cause: death of their loved ones and heroes.

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22 Comments
  1. Terry
    Posted February 6, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Wow. Very good analysis of the poem. This helped me a lot on my essay. Thanks!

  2. Pretty Good
    Posted February 21, 2009 at 11:24 am

    This was very helpful for my essay. Thank you so much!!!! Now I won’t actually fail my paper haha.

  3. Elizabeth
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Thanks!! your essay helped me a lot to understand the last part of the poem …. “He Spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water”.

  4. wael
    Posted November 8, 2009 at 10:02 am

    This essay is helpful for understanding the gist and deep connotative meaning of E.E Cummimgs

  5. Jordana
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    What is the essential conceit expressed in the final couplet?

  6. Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:38 am

    It isn’t a couplet and at the same time it is. I think it’s very important to note that the rhyme scheme in what is supposed to be the rhyming sestet of a petrarchan sonnet is:
    E
    F
    G
    F
    E

    G

    The volta is in the second last line, that’s proof that it’s a Shakespearean sonnet. But it’s not a rhyming couplet. And the first part seems to be a petrarchan sonnet.

    I think this is important to note because it may be a parallel to the message: “Nothing is as it seems.”
    Just like a man can be saying “patriotic” cliches and supporting the troops — he is not what he appears (patriotic), he is (un-American) — what seems like a petrarchan sonnet can be a Shakespearean sonnet in the end. I don’t think it is defined as either, but the uncertainty is the important part. The ambiguity of the poem.

    There’s also ambiguity in lines 5-6, 8, 12.

    5-6) are no more what of it we should worry
    OR
    we should worry in every language even deafanddumb

    8) by jingo can be perceived as an exclamation used to emphasize the importance or truth of a statement.
    AND
    a jingo is one who professes his or her patriotism loudly and excessively, favouring vigilant preparedness for war and aggressive foreign policy; bellicose (aggressive) chauvinist (one who is prejudiced)

    12) they did not stop, to think they died instead…
    OR
    they did not stop to think, they died, instead then…
    OR
    they did not stop to think, they died instead. Then…

    This ambiguity creates multiple meanings in words that do not change. They also emphasize how the person addressing an audience can be perceived differently: Truly patriotic or Un-American.

    :)

    Writing all of this down actually really helped me organize my ideas for my essay. heheh

  7. Ben Consuegra
    Posted December 5, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    did a 4th grader write this analysis?

  8. Posted December 11, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks for your input, Ben, I value your opinion very much so.

  9. Jen
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Don’t listen to Ben, this analysis gave me a good understanding and nearly all poem analysis are valid if supported: an opinion of the writer.

    Good writing.

  10. Posted December 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    how do I reference this in an essay? Because if I write ‘CollegeWriter’ as the author’s name, it is considered anonymous;/

  11. Posted January 3, 2011 at 1:20 am

    If you treat this as a blog, you can reference the article this way:

    MLA

    CollegeWriter, “Patriotism and Poetry: “next to of course god america i” by e. e. cummings.” Bookstove. February 3, 2009. [PUT THE DATE YOU ACCESSED THE PAGE HERE WITHOUT THE BRACKETS]. http://bookstove.com/poetry/patriotism-and-poetry-next-to-of-course-god-america-i-by-e-e-cummings/

  12. Kelly Mathhews
    Posted January 26, 2011 at 11:20 am

    A common theory about the poem (and water drinking) is that the speaker simply has the hiccups, and is reeling off well-known, oft-repeated nationalist bull that everyone knows–merely to expend his breath fully.

  13. Matt H.
    Posted January 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I found this essay very helpful, indeed. The last line always gave me the most trouble, but your explanation makes a lot of sense. I was beginning to lean that way myself. Kelly (above) could also be right. That’s the beauty of poetry, especially cummings’: it can be interpreted so many ways. Andrew P, your comments were extremely helpful! I, and my English class, thank you.

    One point of criticism, though. You analyzed the unpatriotic themes of the poem very astutely, but I’m not sure where you’re getting the last bit (”Although the theme to this poem was implicit, it can be seen clearly through careful analysis that the poem itself is not unpatriotic.”) I thought it was quite obvious that cummings was assailing the idea of nationalism. I don’t believe he was being patriotic or accepting patriotism as reasonable at all. Rebuttal?

  14. anonymous
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    This is a terrible analysis, especially at “He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water”

    Obviously, this person doesn’t know what they are thinking when reading the brilliance of Cummings.

  15. Izzy Guerra
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    That’s one way it can be interpreted, but the real message is a satire on the way that a lot of politicians talk, not about patriotism. The persona (politician) speaking is so eager to sound all upbeat and patriotic and tolerant that there is no real meaning in his words. The “by gory by jingo by gee by gosh by gum” are fillers to show that not only does he have no idea what he’s talking about, he just wants to keep talking. There is no punctuation because punctuation is supposed to convey meaning, and the only times when it is used it to signify the end of his speech and what happens after. It’s ironic because it’s a sonnet (a love poem) and he erased all the poetic beauty of it with his meaningless words while trying to proclaim his love for America. He’s so eager to express his credentials that he unintentionally reveals his own egoism and hypocrisy.

  16. Asa Y.
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    @anonymous

    What you just said makes you sound quite biased. There are, in fact, many ways to intepret poetry- especially those that are written by people as brillant as Cummings.

    I believe this analysis is, at the absolute minimum, a good basis for people who are trying to get an idea or feel when they analyze the poem themselves.

    @Collegewriter

    Don’t let those negative comments discourage you from posting more of your works online. You should continue to post more of these analyses- if you have more. I enjoy reading other people’s intepretations; I’m sure others will find it helpful as well.

  17. Sang Ying
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Great Analysis!! :)

  18. Haru Y.
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:51 am

    This helped a lot thanks

  19. anon
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 12:20 am

    thank you!

  20. Marib
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    this essay helped me a lot to undestand this poem for my gcse anthology
    thnx 4 who ever wrote it!:)

  21. ash
    Posted September 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    thank you. great work :)

  22. simran
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    its my exam tomorrow and iam very nervous but your essay helped me alot THANK YOU very much

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