Edgar Lee Masters: Le Roy Goldman (Spoon River Anthology)

“WHAT will you do when you come to die,
If all your life long you have rejected Jesus,
And know as you lie there,
He is not your friend?”
Over and over I said, I, the revivalist.
Ah, yes! but there are friends and friends.
And blessed are you, say I, who know all now,
You who have lost ere you pass,
A father or mother, or old grandfather or mother
Some beautiful soul that lived life strongly
And knew you all through, and loved you ever,
Who would not fail to speak for you,
And give God an intimate view of your soul
As only one of your flesh could do it.
That is the hand your hand will reach for,
To lead you along the corridor
To the court where you are a stranger!

***

 

Edgar Lee Masters: Lydia Humphrey (Spoon River Anthology)

BACK and forth, back and forth, to and from the church,

With my Bible under my arm

Till I was gray and old;

Unwedded, alone in the world,

Finding brothers and sisters in the congregation,

And children in the church.

I know they laughed and thought me queer.

I knew of the eagle souls that flew high in the sunlight,

Above the spire of the church, and laughed at the church,

Disdaining me, not seeing me.

But if the high air was sweet to them, sweet was the church to me.

It was the vision, vision, vision of the poets

Democratized!

***

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Edgar Lee Masters: James Garber (Spoon River Anthology)

Do you remember, passer-by, the path
I wore across the lot where now stands the opera house
Hasting with swift feet to work through many years?
Take its meaning to heart:
You too may walk, after the hills at Miller’s Ford
Seem no longer far away;
Long after you see them near at hand,
Beyond four miles of meadow;
And after woman’s love is silent
Saying no more: “l will save you.”
And after the faces of friends and kindred
Become as faded photographs, pitifully silent,
Sad for the look which means:
“We cannot help you.”
And after you no longer reproach mankind
With being in league against your soul’s uplifted hands—
Themselves compelled at midnight and at noon
To watch with steadfast eye their destinies;
After you have these understandings, think of me
And of my path, who walked therein and knew
That neither man nor woman, neither toil,
Nor duty, gold nor power
Can ease the longing of the soul,
The loneliness of the soul!

***

 

Edgar Lee Masters: Zilpha Marsh (Spoon River Anthology)

AT four o’clock in late October
I sat alone in the country school-house
Back from the road, mid stricken fields,
And an eddy of wind blew leaves on the pane,
And crooned in the flue of the cannon-stove,
With its open door blurring the shadows
With the spectral glow of a dying fire.
In an idle mood I was running the planchette—
All at once my wrist grew limp,
And my hand moved rapidly over the board,
‘Till the name of “Charles Guiteau” was spelled,
Who threatened to materialize before me.
I rose and fled from the room bare-headed
Into the dusk, afraid of my gift.
And after that the spirits swarmed—
Chaucer, Caesar, Poe and Marlowe,
Cleopatra and Mrs. Surratt—
Wherever I went, with messages,—
Mere trifling twaddle, Spoon River agreed.
You talk nonsense to children, don’t you?
And suppose I see what you never saw
And never heard of and have no word for,
I must talk nonsense when you ask me
What it is I see!

***

Notes:

• Planchette: “a small board supported on casters, typically heart-shaped and fitted with a vertical pencil, used for automatic writing and in seances.” — dictionary.com

• Christopher Marlowe: author of the tragedy Doctor Faustus.

• “Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt was an American boarding house owner who was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Sentenced to death, she was hanged and became the first woman executed by the US federal government.” — Wikipedia

***

Edgar Lee Masters: Alfonso Churchill (Spoon River Anthology)

THEY laughed at me as “Prof. Moon,”
As a boy in Spoon River, born with the thirst
Of knowing about the stars.
They jeered when I spoke of the lunar mountains,
And the thrilling heat and cold,
And the ebon valleys by silver peaks,
And Spica quadrillions of miles away,
And the littleness of man.
But now that my grave is honored, friends,
Let it not be because I taught
The lore of the stars in Knox College,
But rather for this: that through the stars
I preached the greatness of man,
Who is none the less a part of the scheme of things
For the distance of Spica or the Spiral Nebulae;
Nor any the less a part of the question
Of what the drama means.

***

Spiral

Spica

Edgar Lee Masters: Julian Scott (Spoon River Anthology)

TOWARD the last
The truth of others was untruth to me;
The justice of others injustice to me;
Their reasons for death, reasons with me for life;
Their reasons for life, reasons with me for death;
I would have killed those they saved,
And save those they killed.
And I saw how a god, if brought to earth,
Must act out what he saw and thought,
And could not live in this world of men
And act among them side by side
Without continual clashes.
The dust’s for crawling, heaven’s for flying—
Wherefore, O soul, whose wings are grown,
Soar upward to the sun!

***

Edgar Lee Masters: John Ballard and Lydia Humphrey (Spoon River Anthology)

John Ballard

IN the lust of my strength
I cursed God, but he paid no attention to me:
I might as well have cursed the stars.
In my last sickness I was in agony, but I was resolute
And I cursed God for my suffering;
Still He paid no attention to me;
He left me alone, as He had always done.
I might as well have cursed the Presbyterian steeple.
Then, as I grew weaker, a terror came over me:
Perhaps I had alienated God by cursing him.
One day Lydia Humphrey brought me a bouquet
And it occurred to me to try to make friends with God,
So I tried to make friends with Him;
But I might as well have tried to make friends with the bouquet.
Now I was very close to the secret,
For I really could make friends with the bouquet
By holding close to me the love in me for the bouquet
And so I was creeping upon the secret, but—

Lydia Humphrey

BACK and forth, back and forth, to and from the church,
With my Bible under my arm
‘Till I was gray and old;
Unwedded, alone in the world,
Finding brothers and sisters in the congregation,
And children in the church.
I know they laughed and thought me queer.
I knew of the eagle souls that flew high in the sunlight,
Above the spire of the church, and laughed at the church,
Disdaining me, not seeing me.
But if the high air was sweet to them, sweet was the church to me.
It was the vision, vision, vision of the poets
Democratized!

***

Edgar Lee Masters: The Village Atheist

YE young debaters over the doctrine
Of the soul’s immortality
I who lie here was the village atheist,
Talkative, contentious, versed in the arguments
Of the infidels. But through a long sickness
Coughing myself to death I read the
Upanishads and the poetry of Jesus.
And they lighted a torch of hope and intuition
And desire which the Shadow
Leading me swiftly through the caverns of darkness,
Could not extinguish.
Listen to me, ye who live in the senses
And think through the senses only:
Immortality is not a gift,
Immortality is an achievement;
And only those who strive mightily
Shall possess it.

***

Edgar Lee Masters: Willie Pennington (Spoon River Anthology)

THEY called me the weakling, the simpleton,
For my brothers were strong and beautiful,
While I, the last child of parents who had aged,
Inherited only their residue of power.
But they, my brothers, were eaten up
In the fury of the flesh, which I had not,
Made pulp in the activity of the senses, which I had not,
Hardened by the growth of the lusts, which I had not,
Though making names and riches for themselves.
Then I, the weak one, the simpleton,
Resting in a little corner of life,
Saw a vision, and through me many saw the vision,
Not knowing it was through me.
Thus a tree sprang
From me, a mustard seed.

***

Edgar Lee Masters: Willie Metcalf (Spoon River Anthology)

I WAS Willie Metcalf.
They used to call me “Doctor Meyers,”
Because, they said, I looked like him.
And he was my father, according to Jack McGuire.
I lived in the livery stable,
Sleeping on the floor
Side by side with Roger Baughman’s bulldog,
Or sometimes in a stall.
I could crawl between the legs of the wildest horses
Without getting kicked—we knew each other.
On spring days I tramped through the country
To get the feeling, which I sometimes lost,
That I was not a separate thing from the earth.
I used to lose myself, as if in sleep,
By lying with eyes half-open in the woods.
Sometimes I talked with animals— even toads and snakes—
Anything that had an eye to look into.
Once I saw a stone in the sunshine
Trying to turn into jelly.
In April days in this cemetery
The dead people gathered all about me,
And grew still, like a congregation in silent prayer.
I never knew whether I was a part of the earth
With flowers growing in me, or whether I walked—
Now I know.

***