Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Edgar Lee Masters

All photos courtesy of Bing. com

Growing up in Illinois, I had studied about some of our state heroes:  Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Edgar Lee Masters.  A diverse group to be sure, each one had an impact on my thinking and writing.

A performance of the play based on Spoon River Anthology
In my university years, a literature class focused on short stories, which included Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology.  Each of the 213 poems gave voice to the long dead occupants of the cemetery on The Hill.  These mouths expressed Masters’ own grudges, beliefs, insights, anger at injustice, and perspectives on life. 

Masters' headstone, 1868 - 1950
Coming from a very small town, I recognized the social structure of the small town, the struggles of its occupants, and how death was the great equalizer. 

In the writing of my book, In Preacher’s Creek, I incorporated the cemetery as an active part of town life.  Ancestry before, during, and after death were part of each person. 

Edgar Lee Masters was born in 1868, lived a long productive life, was a contemporary of poets Carl Sandberg and Vachel Linsday, and died in 1950.  There is so much that could be said of him and how he interpreted a life that spanned post-Civil War to post-World War II-- too much, really.
"Good friends, let's to the fields--I have a fever.  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.  Here, world, I pass you like an orange to a child.  I can no more with you.  Do what you will..."
One of his best-loved poems is "Silence", published in The New Poetry, H. Monroe and Henderson, eds., The Macmillan Company, New York, 1946.  The opening lines:

I have known the silence of the stars and of the sea,
And the silence of the city when it pauses,
And the silence of a man and a maid,
And the silence of the sick
When their eyes roam about the room.
Of what use is language?
A beast of the field moans a few times
When death takes its young.
And we are voiceless in the presence of realities--
We cannot speak....

Of the 213 characters in Spoon River Anthology, my favorite character is  Lucinda Matlock, who says, “Degenerate sons and daughters, Life is too strong for you—It take life to love Life.”

Have you ever read this book?  If so, which headstone would be yours?


  1. Wow, I love his epitaph. No, I've never even heard of this book before today. Thank you for teaching me something new.

  2. Never heard of him either, I guess I'm out of the loop once more. A very good verse though.

  3. I've never read that book, but it sounds really good! Great 'E' word!!
    By the way, I mentioned you on my blog :)

  4. In Preachers Creek isn't on the Kindle book list.....?????

  5. I read it long ago, twice I think, because I really liked it. But I can't remember any of it now. Guess it will have to go on my list again. I'm trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge Blogs this month.

  6. No, I've never read the book. Thank you for sharing those lines!

  7. I love Spoon River Anthology. I think I'll read it again. And thanks for printing Silence. \
    Visiting from the A to Z Challenge. Hope you'll stop by my blog.

  8. I have not heard of the book or of this man. Fascinating "E" post, and I will look him up. Thanks for teaching me something new today!

    Is your book available? I will look on Amazon to see.

  9. Oh, Yeah, a great piece of literature! Wonderful play. Thank you for bringing it to our attention again. Regards to you, Ruby

  10. I've never heard of this before, but I will definitely have to check it out now. It reminds me a little of this cemetery that I found. It was way out in the country and it hadn't been used in many, many years. Most of the gravestones were from children though. This is a very fascinating post for E!

  11. I used Spoon River Anthology for a high school drama project. I didn't consider it at the time, but the girl in the group who played narrator, or the hill, was a very, very large girl. There were a lot of titters during our performance (of very serious stuff -- I mean, we were all dead).

  12. Edgar sounds deep and dark. I have a feeling he was never the life of the party.

  13. Susan, this is so weird that you are posting. Our community theatre is doing this play as a staged reading and I am in the play as Actress Two! I'd never seen the play but now that I'm rehearsing I'm finding out how beautiful the prose is. Of all the topics in all the world you picked this one at this time...

  14. I love The Spoon River Anthology. Timeless and unique. Something we all have thought of when meandering through an old cemetery.


Go won' t hurt...I'd love to hear what you think!