into the strenuous briefness


into the strenuous briefness - (2008)    

E. E. Cummings

for medium voice and piano


into the strenuous briefness
handorgans and April
darkness, friends.....


(for the remainder of this text, please consult any one of the many printed and electronic sources)


"into the strenuous briefness" was originally published as "I" in The Dial, Vol. 68, No. 5 (May 1920),

New York: The Dial Publishing Company, Inc., Editor: Scofield Thayer,


[ 3 pages, circa 3' 10" ]


E. E. Cummings


This lovely poem speaks of birth and, by implication, death. As life is characterized by "briefness," it is made up not only of "roses & hello" but of "solong and, ashes." For the many citations of color, one thinks of Cummings as painter as well as poet. This is much like some of the nonsense poetry of Mervyn Peake, wherein paint colors and materials figure prominently in a storied poem.



The setting therefore shifts between modes, as in the opening gestures of shifting triadic harmonies to introduce an opening lyricism in the Phrygian, though the setting treads between modes and simple C major diatonicism.



A repetition of the opening lines, "into the strenuous briefness / Life:", makes this setting a reflection on life, and therefore death. The vocal line simply rises, and then falls -- to rise again, for life is said to be a succession of "ups and downs."



The score for into the strenuous briefness is newly engraved and edited according to the text published in 1920 as found at the University of Virginia Library's Electronic Text Center, and is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.


into the strenuous briefness