The e e cummings poem "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls" mocks the titular ladies for their small-minded domesticity. The last four lines read:

.... the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

I believe I understand the main point here: the Cambridge ladies are too wrapped up in their gossip and knitting to care about anything else, even something as significant as the sky and the moon; such things are "above" their notice. What I don't understand is why the moon is said "sometimes" to "rattle like a fragment of angry candy."

What occasions does cummings mean by "sometimes"? How does the moon "rattle"? And why is it "angry"?

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    I may come back to this for an attempted answer when I have more time, but given the reference to Longfellow i wonder whether the whole thing is something of a riff on, or a springing off from the poem 'Moonlight' as they seem to touch on similar themes. if from slightly different directions.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Feb 14, 2019 at 15:39
  • If the candy weren't angry, why would it be rattling in its box of sky lavender?
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 22:09

2 Answers 2


‘Rattle’ means “To have an undesirable or unnecessary amount of space in which to move or function” [OED], like the moon in the sky, or the fragment of candy in the box. (Normally this sense of the word requires ‘about’ or ‘around’, but poetry need not be so finicky.) The moon rattles in the sky ‘sometimes’ because at other times it is hidden by the Earth or by clouds. The epithet ‘angry’ has been transferred: it’s not the candy or the moon but the speaker who is angry that the Cambridge ladies don’t care about the things the speaker thinks are important.

The reason for locating the anger in the speaker is that the poem seems to be expressing a more severe animus than would be justified by a difference in taste or enthusiasms: in particular, the attack on the ladies’ appearance (“unbeautiful … unscented shapeless”) is far too personal for that.

It’s not clear to me, by the way, whether the satirical target of the poem is the Cambridge ladies (who don’t care about the moon), or the speaker (who seems unreasonably angry that the ladies have their own interests). I think you could read it either way.


In Cummings’ opinion, the ladies do not spend enough time thinking about the things Cummings feels are important, such as “if sometimes in its box of sky lavender and cornerless, the moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy.” The way Cummings describes the moon in this final line is a sharp contrast to the way he describes the Cambridge ladies. He uses an explosion of adjectives to describe the details of the sky and moon; details that this section of society overlooks in favor of meaningless things. The message Cummings is trying to send with this poem, and with many of his poems, is that details matter.

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    Welcome to Literature! Thanks for posting this answer, and especially for supporting it with references to the text of the poem :-) If you want to add more detail and commentary, you can always edit your own posts; also feel free to take our short site tour if you haven't already.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 16:22
  • Thanks for answering. If I understand correctly, your main point is that "angry" is simply included as a "detail" that the Cambridge ladies would overlook--is that right? I don't find that to be an adequate explanation. Why "angry" and not some other adjective (perhaps a more positive one)?
    – DLosc
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 18:08

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