Edward Estlin Cummings was born on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cummings' parents were very open-minded in raising their son and encouraged him from an early age to write poetry and keep a journal. He attended Harvard University, from which he received both a bachelor's degree in 1915 and a master's degree in 1916. At Harvard, Cummings was introduced to many forward-thinking poets who greatly influenced his writing. His poems were first published in Eight Harvard Poets, an anthology, in 1917.
That same year, Cummings and a friend volunteered for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in France during World War I. After only a few months of service, the two were taken prisoner for suspected spying and kept in an internment camp for four months. Cummings studied art in Paris after the war and returned to the States in 1924 and by that time, his literary reputation preceded him. Cummings' first publication, a novel titled The Enormous Room (1922), recounted his experiences during the war. Critics welcomed the book with generally favorable reviews, as well as his first collections of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys (1923), XLI Poems (1925), and & (1925). Cummings' poetry challenged and experimented with all conventions of traditional language. At times he did not use punctuation or complete words and often abandoned the use of capital letters. He inventively adjusted standard syntax within his writing, with adjectives, for example, functioning as nouns.
Cummings traveled through Europe and was introduced to several creative movements, including Dada and Surrealist societies and Pablo Picasso's work, all of which influenced his later poetry. Two failed marriages brought a more mocking and critical tone to Cummings' poetry and art during the late twenties and early thirties, but soon after he married Marion Morehouse in 1934, his writing and painting returned to a more exultant milieu, embracing individualism, creativity, and nature. During the 1950's, Cummings began touring colleges and universities to read his poetry and lecture; his addresses at Harvard University evolved into an autobiographical book titled i: six nonlectures (1953).
In Cummings' later years, he was generously awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships and the Bolligen Prize in Poetry. A complete collection of his poetry, Poems, 1923-1954, was published in 1954, and his last volume of poetry, titled 95 Poems, appeared in 1959. Cummings died on September 3, 1962 in New Hampshire after suffering a stroke.