It is the kind of thing scholars live for, the type of adventure A. S. Byatt wrote so eloquently about in her novel Possession. A few weeks ago, biographer James Dempsey, while working on a biography of Scofield Thayer (publisher of The Dial Magazine), made a remarkable discovery. Going through a file folder containing correspondence between Thayer and Cummings, Dempsey came across a poem he had never seen before. In fact, as he soon confirmed, the poem had heretofore been unpublished. Dempsey dates the poem to about 1916, the naissance of the poet’s career.
Thayer and Cummings had been friends for several years before Cummings’s work appeared in The Dial. They maintained a strong friendship for ten years, until Thayer, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, became incapacitated. However, until that point, the two collaborated and enjoyed their mutual passion for the arts. That being said, the relationship between publisher and poet was odd, to say the least. According to Dempsey, Thayer gave Cummings a great deal of money to pursue his craft; publishing his work in The Dial gained the poet wide recognition and acclaim. Cummings, for his part, took the money and fame, and also Thayer’s wife to his bed, and got her pregnant. Thayer, Dempsey says, did not seem to have much of a problem with this turn of events.
For a full analysis of the relationship between Cummings and Thayer, you can read Dempsey’s article here as well as the text of the poem (Warning: the poem contains language that may be objectionable to some readers). This is the poem that he found in that yellowing folder. Perhaps there are more to come. Whatever his personal demons, Cummings remains one of the luminaries of modern American poetry and a previously unknown poem is indeed a great discovery.