“Human Merely Being”
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I like this phrase from a poem by e e cummings, one of America’s most influential writers of the early twentieth century. He could have said “a mere human being,” but poets never do things the easy way. And by putting the “merely” in the middle of the term “human being,” he seems to be reminding us that our smallness and our limitedness are right at the heart of who we are. “Merely” describes our essential nature.

Here’s the whole poem. I’m printing it as he published the poem, with untraditional capitalization and punctuation, and with no title.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

The dawning of each new day struck cummings as the coming to life of a new reality with limitless possibilities; he awoke as a new person with infinite potential for joy and fulfillment. Some scholars believe that cummings’ use of the lower case in signing his name was an indication of his genuine humility. If this is the type of person he was, he would be well aware of his inability to generate true creativity on his own. It’s likely that he saw that the “infinite yes” of each new day was proof that a loving God exists. So he wrote

how should . . . any . . . human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

God is the “unimaginable You.” We might think that it would be natural to “doubt” a being who is “unimaginable,” but cummings asserts the opposite. A “human merely being” is not big enough to “doubt the unimaginable You.”

Some of you might not get poetry at all. On the other hand, others will respond to e e cummings’ insights by saying

now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened

Let the one who has ears to hear (and eyes to see) acknowledge the “unimaginable You” and reflect on their own “human merely being”-ness!