Edgar Lee Masters: The American Graveyard Poet


Born today was Edgar Lee Masters

Who wrote about folks in the town of Spoon River*

Where Reverend Sibley was one of those pastors

Who are not what they seem in the words they deliver.

*Masters wrote tombstone epitaphs for 244 people in Spoon River, the fictional name he gave to Lewistown, Illinois.



NOT character, not fortitude, not patience
Were mine, the which the village thought I had
In bearing with my wife, while preaching on,
Doing the work God chose for me.
I loathed her as a termagant, as a wanton.
I knew of her adulteries, every one.
But even so, if I divorced the woman
I must forsake the ministry.
Therefore to do God's work and have it crop,
I bore with her
So lied I to myself
So lied I to Spoon River!
Yet I tried lecturing, ran for the legislature,
Canvassed for books, with just the thought in mind:
If I make money thus,
I will divorce her.



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  • Of course the most famous poem from Spoon River Anthology has to do with Ann Rutledge, young love of Abraham Lincoln, who died just as their love story was supposedly beginning. She was originally buried in a small country cemetery, but the the city fathers of Lewistown exhumed her grave and moved it to Lewistown for tourist reasons, even then.

    Some say Ann's death contributed to Lincoln's melancholy throughout his life.

    Ann Rutledge:

    Out of me unworthy and unknown
    The vibrations of deathless music;
    'With malice toward none, with charity for all.'
    Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
    And the beneficient face of a nation
    Shining with justice and truth.
    I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
    Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
    Wedded to him, not through union,
    But through separation.
    Bloom forever, O Republic,
    From the dust of my bosom!

    Edgar Lee Masters

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Thanks, Richard, for the comment. It's a wonderful complement to my post. I love the irony of the lines, "Wedded to him, not through union/But through separation".

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