Friday, December 4, 2009

Spoon River Anthology (4).

Edgar Lee Masters. New York: Collier Books. A Division of Macmillan Publishers Co. 1915.

Why read it? Epitaphs in poetic form. Concise. Cryptic. Subtle. Often bitter. From the grave, the characters summarize their lives. Each poem is a potential short story.

“Percy Bysshe Shelley.” With a poet’s name but neither a poet’s spirit or a poet’s expression, he is the antithesis of what his father wanted him to be. p. 57.

“Flossie Cabanis.” The would-be actress who left to try to be successful in New York, but who returned home a failure. The spirit that drove her to try to become an actress is still with her in her grave. p. 58.

“Julia Miller.” Carrying someone else’s child, she married an elderly man to try to hide it. Her last memory after arguing with her aged husband is the morphine and the words of the Good Book: “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” p. 59.

“Johnnie Sayre.” Playing truant to ride the trains, he loses his leg—and his life—and feels terrible remorse for his disobedience to his father. His father is compassionate. The epitaph he has written for his son is, “Taken from the evil to come.” p. 60.

Zenas Witt.” Loser. Can’t do anything right. Marked for an early grave by fate or his own intention? He is there. p. 62.

“Theodore the Poet.” The poet wonders why the crawfish comes out of his burrow and about the souls of people—how they lived and for what. In short, the poet wonders about the mystery of life. p. 63. .

“The Town Marshal” …had killed a man when he had been a hard drinker before Prohibition which he had been recruited to police. When he is killed after striking a man with his loaded cane, he interceded in his dreams on behalf of his murderer with a juror who saved his murderer from hanging. “Fourteen years were enough for killing me.” Justice had been done. p. 64.

“Jack McGuire.” A political deal on behalf of a corrupt banker spares the life of the killer of the town marshal who accosted him when he had been drinking and had struck him with his “Prohibition” loaded cane. “I served my time and learned to read and write.” p. 65.

“Dorcas Gustine.” The town’s sharp-tongued fighter for personal justice gives a rationale for not keeping silent against all those who transgressed against her. “The tongue may be an unruly member-- / But silence poisons the soul./ Berate me who will—I am content.” p. 66.

“Nicholas Bindle.” The bitterness of the wealthy man who had been hounded incessantly to give. Notes the irony that the organ he had given to the church played for the first time at the service at which Banker Rhodes, who broke the bank and who ruined Bindle, worshipped, after Rhodes’s acquittal. p. 67.

To be continued.

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