Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spoon River anthology (7)

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.

Sexsmith the Dentist.” The reasons for “moral” actions are not really the idealistic reasons given—they are for the personal profit of someone else. “Why a moral truth is a hollow tooth/ Which must be propped with gold.” p. 90.

“A.D. Blood.” The mayor was a do-gooder who closed saloons and stopped the card playing. but his reputation has not stopped a young couple from using his grave site as a bed. p. 91.

“Robert Southey Burke.” He devoted his life to the do-gooder mayor, who, he now sees, was small-souled. Now, after a life time of this devoted service, he realizes that it was a wasted life. Warning—Do not ever devote your whole soul, existence and life to any one person. p. 92.

“William and Emily.” Love and death experienced together—“Together feel the sinking of the fire,/ And thus fade away together?—That is the power of the union of two souls. p. 95.

“The Circuit Judge.” The circuit judge reflects on his guilt. “Deciding cases on the points the lawyers scored,/ Not on the right of the matter.” “Seeing that even Hod Putt, the murderer,/ Hanged by my sentence/ Was innocent in soul compared with me.” p. 96.

“Blind Jack.” Blind Jack, the fiddler, dies a violent death, caught in the wheel of a runaway carriage and its horses. Now, he and all fiddlers sit at the feet of Homer. p. 97.

“John Horace Burleson.” Would-be writer is early successful, but then he becomes a banker, always searching for the leisure to write his epic novel. He longs to have written one oft-quoted line of literature. Even that would keep his name alive as banking has not. p. 98.

“Nancy Knapp.” Her husband is accused of poisoning his father’s mind against his brothers and sisters and she and her husband inherit the money to buy their farm. They are ostracized. Bit by bit the farm crumbles to the final conflagration. One assumes that Nancy’s mind has gradually crumbled with the farm’s fortunes and with the ostracism. p. 99.

“Barry Holden.” Farmer with eight children and many worries hacks his pregnant wife to death when she begins again to talk about the mortgage. p. 100.

“State’s Attorney Fallas.” DA changes his attitude toward life after a doctor fumbles his boy’s head with a forceps when he is being born, making the child an idiot. From then on, he becomes charitable, no longer the legalistic justice-ridden prosecutor. p. 101.

To be continued.

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