Edgar Lee Masters-Poet?

Post by Doris McCraw/Angela Raines


I grew up not far from Galesburg, Illinois, the setting for Edgar Lee Masters classic. Why is that important? The small rural community I spent time in was much like the town that Edgar Lee Masters wrote about in his classic “Spoon River Anthology”. Masters told stories, without varnish or sweetening. Reading this work you know the heartache, secrets, joys and pains of these people. Much like my other favorites, I have more than one copy. I’ve shared some of these works before, but I feel revisiting, as the daylight fades into winter, is the thing to do. These works and other authors such as Tennyson, Bristow, Hunt, and others should not be allowed to molder away. So here for your enjoyment, some stories of the people who lived in Spoon River.

Six miles northwest of Farmington, Illinois. Uneroded upland, nearly flat. Illinoian drift area.

Knox County Illinois, where Galesburg is located U.S. Geological Survey (Data Owner), Alden, William Clinton (Photographer)

Hod Putt

Here I lie close to the grave
Of Old Bill Piersol,
Who grew rich trading with the Indians, and who
Afterwards took the Bankrupt Law
And emerged from it richer than ever
Myself grown tired of toil and poverty
And beholding how Old Bill and other grew in wealth
Robbed a traveler one Night near Proctor’s Grove,
Killing him unwittingly while doing so,
For which I was tried and hanged.
That was my way of going into bankruptcy.
Now we who took the bankrupt law in our respective ways
Sleep peacefully side by side

Amanda Barker

Henry got me with child,
Knowing that I could not bring forth life
Without losing my own.
In my youth therefore I entered the portals of dust.
Traveler, it is believed in the village where I lived
That Henry loved me with a husband’s love
But I proclaim from the dust
That he slew me to gratify his hatred

Dorcas Gustine

I was not beloved of the villagers,
But all because I spoke my mind,
And met those who transgressed against me
With plain remonstrance, hiding nor nurturing
Nor secret griefs nor grudges.
That act of the Spartan boy is greatly praised,
Who hid the wolf under his cloak,
Letting it devour him, uncomplainingly.
It is braver, I think, to snatch the wolf forth
And fight him openly, even in the street,
Amid dust and howls of pain.
The tongue may be an unruly member—
But silence poisons the soul.
Berate me who will—I am content


And lastly,

Mrs. George Reece

To this generation I would say:
Memorize some bit of verse of truth or beauty.
It may serve a turn in your life.
My husband had nothing to do
With the fall of the bank—he was only cashier.
The wreck was due to the president, Thomas Rhodes,
And his vain, unscrupulous son.
Yet my husband was sent to prison,
And I was left with the children,
To feed and clothe and school them.
And I did it, and sent them forth
Into the world all clean and strong,
And all through the wisdom of Pope, the poet:
“Act well your part, there all the honor lies.”

I would recommend, it you have not done so, pick up a copy of “Spoon River Anthology” and give it a try. To me this book, along with so many others, has influenced not only my reading, but my writing and the way I look at and live my life. As Lucinda Matlock says in the book :

What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,Anger, discontent and drooping hopes? Degenerate sons and daughters, Life is too strong for you  –  It takes life to love Life.

You can find the book online at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1280

Angela Raines is the pen name for Doris McCraw. Doris also writes haiku posted five days a week at – http://fivesevenfivepage.blogspot.com and has now passed one thousand haiku and photos posted on this blog. Check out her other work or like her Amazon author page:  http://amzn.to/1I0YoeL




20 thoughts on “Edgar Lee Masters-Poet?

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your blog and the inclusions you selected. Very poignant writing which succinctly says so much. Inspires me to think of writing my own epitaph! And also piqued my interest in the book.


    1. Neva, It is one of my favorites as you can tell. They way Master’s tell the story of this town is inspired. I look forward to seeing what you tell. Doris


    1. You are welcome Linda. I think the way he tells his story, which was somewhat unique at the time, makes everything so immediate and real. That the ‘stories’ are based on real people makes it even more interesting. Masters caught flack from the town after it was publised, and I think we can see why. Doris


    1. Travis, I hope you enjoy the work as much as I do. You can also access the whole book online with the link I provided. Personally, I like holding the book in my hand, but..
      I can never get enough of this book. Every time I read it I get something more out of it. Let me know what you think. Doris


  2. Lovely memories of the midwest, Doris, as you and I grew up in neighboring areas. I’m hoping to head back there next year for a visit. That ol’ Mississippi River continues its calling and about every four to six years, I have to heed the signal. 🙂 Thanks for sharing — wonderful post!


    1. Thank you Gayle. I think this book is one of my favorites, so much said in so few words.

      I still think about the old river. I think that’s way Show Boat and Old Man River go through my head so often. Have a great trip back home. Doris


    1. Thank you S J. Masters had such a way with words when he wrote his story of Spoon River. Each time I read the book, I find more subtle things I missed the first time. Doris


  3. It’s such a coincidence I looked up Spoon River Anthology the other day. I can’t remember why or what prompted me to but I see your post and it seems like i’m destined to read it. My ex-husband (and dear friend of mine) had a battered copy of it and loved it. Thanks for an inspirational post.


    1. Wow, Sarah. I got ‘Twilight Zone’ shivers as I read your comment. What a coincidence indeed. I confess, I do love this book. Let me know what you think.

      Happy reading. Doris


  4. Back in my young days as a reporter, I and a friend went to a Ohio University branch college in Lancaster to see the theater department’s version of Spoon River Anthology. Enjoyed it, although my companion actually wrote the review for the newspaper. I was just along for the chit-chat… although, to be truthful, I mostly listened; Paula was quite a talker.


    1. Mike,
      I find it so interestin that this work triggers so many memories for people who have read or seen it. Sometimes, I just pull the book our and read random ‘stories’, it brings life into perspective. I’m glad you enjoyed the performance. The book is a great read to get a hold of people and their lives. Doris


  5. A friend of mine recently gave me some old books he found at a yard sale. The old books are from poets of the past. I recently started reading one and the contents inside have already taken me back into history. It’s a great feeling indeed.


    1. As wonderful as the work of contemporary authors are, there is just something special about the work of those who came before us. I have many poets from the past who continue to inspire me, Helen Hunt Jackson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lord Tennyson, and of course Masters. So glad those books are creating such feelings. Best to you on your journey, stay true. Doris


  6. I’m not familiar with those, Doris, but I will say they are short but powerful. I can also picture the backgrounds to them fairly easily, sad though the images are. Snapshots of the toughness of life in the long ago towns.


    1. When Masters wrote this book, he made the poems the epitaphs on the ‘residents’ headstones. It is a very powerful book, and the stories make you both laugh and cry. The stories connect, but I chose just a few, except Lucinda Matlock. She is always my favorite and I will include her ending lines whenever I can. Yes, life was not easy back then. Doris


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