Monday, December 7, 2009

Spoon River Anthology (5).

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.

“Jacob Goodpasture.” The old man who believed that the Civil War was the beginning of the end of freedom, and the death of his son in that conflict wasted. Now he understands that it was all worth it—he understands that he was a blind old owl. p. 68.

“Harold Arnett.” The despondency of the suicide. Of what use to rid oneself of the world when one may not escape the destiny of life? p. 69

“Margaret Fuller Slack.” Because she needed an outlet for her sexual drive, she married, had eight children, and had no time to write the novel she desired to write. Thus, sex is the cause for her failure to fulfill herself. “Hear me, ambitious souls,/ Sex is the curse of life.” p. 70.

“George Trimble.” Adopting first a liberal cause (free silver) and then a conservative cause (Prohibition), he is not believed by either liberal or conservative factions and goes nowhere politically. p. 71.

“Dr. Siegfried Iseman.” On becoming a doctor, his idealism to carry the Christian creed into medicine. Unfortunately, the result was poverty and his idealism turned to quackery as he bottles and sells the “elixir of life.” For which he is arrested. “And you find too late that being a doctor/ Is just a way of making a living.” p. 72.

“ ‘Ace’ Shaw.” Gambling with cards or any form of business is all chance. But gambling with cards is illegal. p. 73.

“Lois Spears.” Wife and mother, born blind, lives a happy, fulfilled life. p. 74.

“Justice Arnett.” The record of the judge’s life is in the leaves of the docket on a shelf above his head. Its metal rim gives him a death blow when it falls on his head. That docket with its leaves was his life and ends it. “Those are not leaves,’ Why, can’t you see they are days and days/ And the days and days of seventy years?” p. 75.

“Willard Fluke.” The townsmen all committed sin with Cleopatra and one by one they were taken in horrible fate. He alone seemed spared. But then the word came to him—“Confess your sin in public.” He was about to but he saw his little blind daughter in the first pew of the church. He couldn’t and death followed. p. 76.

Aner Clute.” Why did you become a prostitute? Because that is what people thought of me and expected of me. You are what is expected of you—thief or prostitute. p. 77.

To be continued.

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