Spoon River Anthology

The other day, on my way somewhere by car, I heard an NPR article on  Spoon River Anthology, a collection of poems first published in 1915 by Edgar Lee Masters.  Not mentioned by NPR was that for some years, Masters, an attorney, worked with Clarence Darrow.

Why had I never read this before?

Spoon River Anthology is a series of over 240 short, free-verse poems, the first-person voices of the dead buried (perhaps for the most part) in Spoon River, Illinois.  Some of the dead speak to each other, or of each other, or to important principles, or to the vanity of the flesh, or to the importance of the flesh, and almost all are titled with the name of the speaker.  Some are happy to be dead, some are not.  The poems are subversive in the extreme.  It’s a spectacular work.

Yesterday, I googled up a website that contained the full work and read through it.  I encourage you to do the same.  Here’s one of my favorites:


Fiddler Jones

THE earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.”
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill— only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle—
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

This poem, only a page in length, is a lesson in perspective.  Consider the following couplet:

What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?

Highly recommended.

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