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Spoon River Anthology

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Riccardo Radaelli

on 18 June 2013

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Transcript of Spoon River Anthology

Born on August 23, 1868 to Emma J. Dexter and Hardin Wallace Masters in Garnett, Kansas, his father had briefly moved to set up a law practice. The family soon moved back to his paternal grandparents' farm near Petersburg in Menard County, Illinois. In 1880 they moved to Lewistown, Illinois, where he attended high school and had his first publication in the Chicago Daily News. The culture around Lewistown, in addition to the town's cemetery at Oak Hill, and the nearby Spoon River were the inspirations for many of his works, most notably Spoon River Anthology, his most famous and acclaimed work.
Masters attended The Knox Academy from 1889–1890, a defunct preparatory program run by Knox College, but was forced to leave due to his family's inability to finance his education.

After working in his father's law office, he was admitted to the Illinois bar and moved to Chicago, where he established a law partnership with Kickham Scanlan in 1893. He married twice. In 1898, he married Helen M. Jenkins, the daughter of a lawyer in Chicago, and had three children. During his law partnership with Clarence Darrow, from 1903 to 1908, Masters defended the poor. In 1911, he started his own law firm, despite the three years of unrest (1908–1911) due to extramarital affairs and an argument with Darrow.

Two of his children followed him with literary careers. His daughter Marcia pursued poetry, while his son, Hilary Masters became a novelist. Hilary and his half-brother Hardin wrote a memoir of their father
Masters died at a nursing home on March 5, 1950, in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, age 81. He is buried in Oakland cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois. His epitaph includes his poem,
"To-morrow is My Birthday" from Toward the Gulf (1918):
Good friends, let’s to the fields…
After a little walk and by your pardon,
I think I’ll sleep, there is no sweeter thing.
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep.

I am a dream out of a blessed sleep-
Let’s walk, and hear the lark.
Anthology
Edgar Lee Masters
Born 1868 - Died 1950
Spoon River
1915
The Spoon River Anthology was written in 1915.
The Anthology starts with the poem “The Hill” which is a sort of preface and 243 poems follow the preface.

There's not any fixed verse, and they're free throughout the Anthology.

Each poem has a title that is the name of the speaker.
The Spoon River Anthology is a different kind of collection of poems. Through it, from the first to the last page, there's a strong irony and a compelling suspense. We can also see in this “American comedy”, according to some philological studies, an ancestor of our smoother phenomenon called “commedia all'italiana”. There are adulteress, unsatisfied wives, easy-going adventuresses, poetesses forced to sacrifice their poetic talent for motherhood, and there are also husbands who “nailed into a coffin” watch their widows happy and cheerful seated in a restaurant with a wonderful sea vista asking for “another slice of roast-beef”. There are finally, in that Illinois made miserable by prejudices and hypocrisy of the old puritan society, the powerful members of the prohibitionist party who drink behind the apothecary counter huge amounts of spiritus frumenti.
Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?-
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart's desire;
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked With venerable men of the revolution?-
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary's Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.
Conrad Siever
Not in that wasted garden
Where bodies are drawn into grass
That feeds no flocks, and into evergreens
That bear no fruit —
There where along the shaded walks
Vain
sighs are heard,
And
vainer dreams are dreamed

Of close communion with departed souls —
But here under the apple tree
I loved and watched and pruned
With gnarled hands
In the long, long years;
Here under the roots of this northern-spy
To move in the chemic change and circle of life,
Into the soil and into the flesh of the tree,
And into the living epitaphs
Of redder apples!
Maurice, weep not, I am not here under this pine tree.
The balmy air of spring whispers through the sweet grass,
The stars sparkle, the whippoorwill calls,
But thou grievest, while my soul lies rapturous
In the blest Nirvana of eternal light!
Go to the good heart that is my husband
Who broods upon what he calls our guilty love:--
Tell him that my love for you, no less than my love for him
Wrought out my destiny-- that through the flesh
I won spirit, and through spirit, peace.
There is no marriage in heaven
But there is love.
Sarah Brown
Margaret Fuller Slack

I would have been as great as George Eliot
But for an untoward fate.
For look at the photograph of me made by Penniwit,
Chin resting on hand, and deep-set eyes—
Gray, too, and far-searching.
But there was the old, old problem:
Should it be celibacy, matrimony or unchastity?
Then John Slack, the rich druggist, wooed me,
Luring me with the promise of leisure for my novel,
And I married him, giving birth to eight children,
And had no time to write.
It was all over with me, anyway,
When I ran the needle in my hand
While washing the baby’s things,
And died from lock-jaw, an ironical death.
Hear me, ambitious souls,
Sex is the curse of life!
It is true, fellow citizens,
That my old docket lying there for years
On a shelf above my head and over
The seat of justice, I say it is true
That docket had an iron rim
Which gashed my baldness when it fell—
(Somehow I think it was shaken loose
By the heave of the air all over town
When the gasoline tank at the canning works
Blew up and burned Butch Weldy)—
But let us argue points in order,
And reason the whole case carefully:
First I concede my head was cut,
But second the frightful thing was this:
The leaves of the docket
shot and showered
Around me like a deck of cards
In the hands of a sleight of hand performer.
And up to the end I saw those leaves
Till I said at last,
“Those are not leaves,
Why, can't you see they are days and days
And the days and days of seventy years?
And why do you torture me with leaves
And the little entries on them?"
The press of the Spoon River Clarion was wrecked,
And I was tarred and feathered,
For publishing this on the day the Anarchists were hanged in Chicago:
"I saw a beautiful woman with bandaged eyes
Standing on the steps of a marble temple.
Great multitudes passed in front of her,
Lifting their faces to her imploringly.
In her left hand she held a sword.
She was brandishing the sword,
Sometimes striking a child, again a laborer,
Again a slinking woman, again a lunatic.
In her right hand she held a scale;
Into the scale pieces of gold were tossed
By those who dodged the strokes of the sword.
A man in a black gown read from a manuscript:
'She is no respecter of persons.'
Then a youth wearing a red cap
Leaped to her side and snatched away the bandage.
And lo, the lashes had been eaten away
From the oozy eye-lids;
The eye-balls were seared with a milky mucus;
The madness of a dying soul
Was written on her face i
But the multitude saw why she wore the bandage."
Carl Hamblin
Justice Arnett
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me--
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire--
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
George Gray
I could not run or play
In boyhood.
In manhood I could only sip the cup,
Not drink-
For scarlet-fever left my heart diseased.
Yet I lie here
Soothed by a secret none but Mary knows:
There is a garden of acacia,
Catalpa trees, and arbors sweet with vines--
There on that afternoon in June
By Mary's side--
Kissing her with my soul upon my lips
It suddenly took flight.
Francis Turner

I was attorney for the “Q”
And the Indemnity Company which insured
The owners of the mine.
I pulled the wires with judge and jury,
And the upper courts, to beat the claims
Of the crippled, the widow and orphan,
And made a fortune thereat.
The bar association sang my praises
In a high-flown resolution.
And the floral tributes were many—
But the rats devoured my heart
And a snake made a nest in my skull!
John M. Church
In youth
my wings were strong and tireless,
But I did not know the mountains.
In age
I knew the mountains
But my weary wings could not follow my vision --
Genius is wisdom and youth.
Alexander Throckmorton
I would I had thrust my hands of flesh
Into the disk-flowers bee-infested,
Into the mirror-like core of fire
Of the light of life, the sun of delight.
For what are anthers worth or petals
Or halo-rays? Mockeries, shadows
Of the heart of the flowers, the central flame!
All is yours, young passer-by;
Enter the banquet room with the thought;
Don't sidle in as if you were doubtful
Whether you're welcome - the feast is yours!
Nor take but a little, refusing more
With a bashful “Thank you”, when you're hungry.
Is your soul alive? Then let it feed!
Leave no balconies where you can climb;
Nor milk-white bosoms where you can rest;
Nor golden heads with pillows to share;
Nor wine cups while the wine in sweet;
Nor ecstasies of body or soul,
You will die, no doubt, but die while living
In depths of azure, rapt and mated,
Kissing the queen-bee, Life!
Edmund Pollard
What do you see now?
Globes of red, yellow, purple.
Just a moment! And now?
My father and mother and sisters.
Yes! And now?
Knights at arms, beautiful women, kind faces.
Try this.
A field of grain -- a city.
Very good! And Now?
A young woman with angels bending over her.
A heavier lens! And Now?
Many women with bright eyes and open lips.
Try this.
Just a goblet on a table.
Oh I see! Try this lens!
Just an open space -- I see nothing in particular.
Well, now!
Pine trees, a lake, summer sky.
That's better. And now?
A book.
Read a page for me.
I can't. My eyes are carried beyond the page.
Try this lens.
Depths of air.
Excellent! and now?
Light, just light, making everything below a toy world.
Very well, we'll make the glasses accordingly.
Dippold the Optician
Dust of my dust,
And dust with my dust,
O, child who died as you entered the world,
Dead with my death!
Not knowing
Breath, though you tried so hard,
With a heart that beat when you lived with me,
And stopped when you left me for Life.
It is well, my child.
For you never traveled
The long, long way that begins with school days,
When little fingers blur under the tears
That fall on the crooked letters.
And the earliest wound, when a little mate
Leaves you alone for another;
And sickness, and the face of
Fear by the bed;
The death of a father or mother;
Or shame for them, or poverty;
The maiden sorrow of school days ended;
And eyeless Nature that makes you drink
From the cup of Love, though you know it's poisoned;
To whom would your flower-face have been lifted?
Botanist, weakling?
Cry of what blood to yours?--
Pure or foul, for it makes no matter,
It's blood that calls to our blood.
And then your children--oh, what might they be?
And what your sorrow?
Child! Child Death is better than Life.
Elizabeth Childers
Your red blossoms amid green leaves
Are drooping, beautiful geranium!
But you do not ask for water.
You cannot speak!
You do not need to speak--
Everyone knows that you are dying of thirst,
Yet they do not bring water!
They pass on, saying:
"The geranium wants water."
And I, who had happiness to share
And longed to share your happiness;
I who loved you, Spoon River,
And craved your love,
Withered before your eyes, Spoon River--
Thirsting, thirsting,
Voiceless from chasteness of soul to ask you for love,
You who knew and saw me perish before you,
Like this geranium which someone has planted over me,
And left to die.
Mabel Osborne
Edgar Lee Masters builds with this encyclopedia of human weaknesses a work of art in which every feeling is analyzed and the sarcasm doesn't leave off the tenderness. A good example is Francis Turner that tells from his grave about his Mary “kissing her with my soul upon my lips it suddenly took flight”. When you read this book, you've the impression it was written on impulse, without hesitation and boredom, and definitely with inspiration. The Anthology could be read as the will of a world which is going towards its own end or also as the work of a person who feels anger against the world. The author is a forerunner because his characters seem to be stereotyped men and women of the 21st century, as a matter of fact Masters' people are anonymous as the man in our time is. Italian writer and Nobel prize winner Eugenio Montale after saying that the Anthology marks an historical point in the American realism said also that Master is the creator of a new style “that was and wanted to be less than poetry but more beautiful than prose”. It is to be said that, even if the scene is in a cemetery and the characters speak from their own graves, few works have a connection of complicity with life as this has. Life here is evoked in the whole of its materiality and passionate nature. Cesare Pavese courageously brought to the light in the middle of fascist this Anthology full of rebellious pessimism and without shadow of doubt hated by the dictatorship of Mussolini. Pavese declared: “Like the Dante's dead, that are livelier that in life, the dead of Spoon River extend in a sepulchral manner all their discontents, all their passions”.
Thank you for your attention,
I hope that one day everyone could read and love this wonderful work of art
THE END
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