Tuesday, December 5, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Beauty of Living: e. e. cummings in the Great War, excerpt nine)

from The Beauty of Living: e. e. cummings in the Great War by J. Alison Rosenblitt:

A month later, on November 20, 1917, the American embassy at Paris informed the State Department in Washington that Cummings had already been released—and was dead. He was lost at sea aboard the torpedoed American vessel Antilles. But at the same time that official news of his son’s death reached the Reverend at 104 Irving Street, Norton cabled to say that Cummings would be released within the next few days. There was hope, then, of a mistake. The Reverend cabled urgently to Norton demanding to know if his son were dead or alive. Four days later, on November 24, both the American State Department and 104 Irving Street were authoritatively informed that the man lost on the Antilles was H.H., not E.E., Cummings.

It is a hard piece of fortune to go down in history for the relief felt that it was you and not another who died. No man should be collateral damage in another man’s story. I have been able to find out very little about H.H. Cummings. His was one of sixty-seven lives lost when the Antilles sank in a submarine attack. He was from Philadelphia: he was the only Philadelphian to die on the transport. He must be the same man who appears in the register of births for Philadelphia City, Pennsylvania, as Harold H. Cummings, born May 16, 1894, to Wm. P. Cummings and Clara E. Cummings. That makes him six months (minus two days) older than E. E. Cummings, and twenty-three when he died. There is nothing more to know about who he was or who he might have been had he not died on the ocean when the Antilles went down.

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