Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spoon River Anthology (8).

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.

“Wendell P. Boyd.” Read the Bible and interpreted it in an anti-religious manner. They locked him up as a loony and he was killed by a Catholic guard. He quotes the exact words of the Bible to prove his case. “My offense was this: / I said God lied to Adam, and destined him/ to lead the life of a fool, / Ignorant that there is evil in the world as well as good. / And when Adam outwitted God by eating the apple / And saw through the lie, / God drove him out of Eden to keep him from taking/ The fruit of immortal life.” p. 102.

“Francis Turner.” Victim of a heart problem, he yet died while experiencing the culminating experience in life—sex. p. 103.

“Franklin Jones.” Life is expectation. Fulfillment is usually frustrated. In the case of Franklin Jones, frustrated by death. If he had had another year of life, he could have completed his invention of the flying machine. p. 104.

“John M. Church.” As a lawyer, he does his job—brilliantly—for his clients, the owners and insurers of the mine that had collapsed. The widows’ and orphans’ claims were not allowed. Now that he has died, he must contend with rats and snakes—his just retribution for his earthly deeds. p. 105.

“Russian Sonia.” She did all that was wrong—mistress, lived with a man in Spoon River without being married—and was considered a success. She laughs at life. p. 106.

“Isa Nutter.” A man who devoted his life to securing the hand in marriage of Minnie in spite of many obstacles. He succeeded. An act of will. p. 107.

Petit, the Poet.” The poet laments that he didn’t see the web of life around him while living, which could have made him a great poet. Instead, he repeats his same narrow themes again and again, no matter what form he used. “Triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus,/ Ballades by the score with the same old thought: / The snows and the roses of yesterday are vanished; / And what is love but a rose that fades?” p. 109.

“Pauline Barrett.” Wife is a shell of herself after the surgeon’s knife. Can’t bear to have her husband keep up the charade of rapture in marriage. She is half-dead, and she feels she should be all dead, so she commits suicide and hopes that her husband understands. “One should be all dead when one is half-dead.” p. 110.

“Mrs. Charles Bliss.” A husband and wife who know they will be better off divorced, take the advice of the preacher and the judge to remain together because of the children. She points out that a loveless, cold marriage is no environment in which to rear children. p. 111.

“Mrs. George Reece.” Because she remembers and had memorized a line from Pope, she was able to endure in raising her children in spite of her husband’s unfairly being sent to prison—the scapegoat for Thomas Rhodes’s bank failure. “Act well your part, there all the honor lies.” p. 112.

To be continued.

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