Original Research

Reading blank space from an ecopoetic perspective in selected poems by E.E. Cummings and William Carlos Williams

Etienne J. Terblanche
Literator | Vol 43, No 1 | a1847 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v43i1.1847 | © 2022 Etienne J. Terblanche | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 October 2021 | Published: 31 May 2022

About the author(s)

Etienne J. Terblanche, Research Unit Languages and Literature in the South African Context, School of Languages, Faculty of Humanities, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Sorrow is perhaps the usual response to the disappearance of things into ‘nowhere’. The use of blank space in the poetry of E. E. Cummings and William Carlos Williams indicates an alternative response: to accept and even celebrate this. With a view to exploring this alternative response to disappearance, appearance, and nowhere, the article reads blank space in the little man poem and air poem (Cummings), as well as the obsolete rose poem and red wheelbarrow poem (Williams) – I use these labels because the poems are untitled. The article closely examines the tensions that these poems create between their printed black fragments and the blank space within which these are located. It finds that the former mimes being, existence, and ‘something’, whilst the latter mimes unbeing, nowhere, and nothing. The poems present the latter condition as vibrant, embodying the place from where being emerges, ablaze with itself. The blank space embodies this vibrancy in the poems examined; the poets use various devices to heighten the perception of this. For instance, Cummings’ little man poem signifies the reconnection of a modern subject, a little man, and the huge and dynamic earth by rejuvenating an acute sense of now-here in terms of nowhere, as mimed by breaking a phrase across the poem’s final two stanzas, inviting blank space into the poem on an accentuated level. A similar textual event occurs in the tracing of a rose petal’s paradoxical line between something and nothing within Williams’ obsolete rose poem, where the determiner ‘the’ is followed abruptly by the fecund nothingness of blank space. At its conclusion, the piece synthesises these and other findings to argue that the use of blank space in these poems boils down to a node of modern ecopoetic maturation: the poems orient themselves to and within the dynamic earth anew, marking radical acceptance of being on the earth in terms of unbeing.


modern poetry; E. E. Cummings; William Carlos Williams; blank space; unbeing; being; ecopoetic maturation


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