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Spoon River Anthology

By: Edgar Lee Masters

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"Spoon River Anthology" is a collection of free verse epitaphs written by Edgar Lee Masters, published in 1915. The book is a collection of short, free-verse poems that are spoken by the dead residents of the fictional Spoon River. The poems give voice to the deceased inhabitants of the town, speaking in their own words about their lives and deaths, loves and losses, and regrets and triumphs. The book provides a window into the lives of the small-town American Midwest at the turn of the 20th century and the many different people that call it home, from farmers and merchants to politicians and poets. The book is considered a classic of American poetry and a valuable insight into the lives of the people of the time, and it continues to be widely read and studied today.ems, novels and biographies, none became so popular or well-known as the Spoon River Anthology.

The first poem serves as an introduction:

"The Hill"
Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart's desire;
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?—
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

Each following poem is an autobiographical epitaph of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves. Characters include Tom Merritt, Amos Sibley, Carl Hamblin, Fiddler Jones and A.D. Blood. They speak about the sorts of things one might expect: Some recite their histories and turning points, others make observations of life from the outside, and petty ones complain of the treatment of their graves, while few tell how they really died. The subject of afterlife receives only the occasional brief mention, and even those seem to be contradictory. Speaking without reason to lie or fear the consequences, they construct a picture of life in their town that is shorn of façades. The interplay of various villagers — such as a bright and successful man crediting his parents for all he's accomplished, and an old woman weeping because he is secretly her illegitimate child — forms a gripping, if not pretty, whole.


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Edgar Lee Masters

United States

Edgar Lee Masters was an American attorney, poet, biographer, and dramatist. He is the author of Spoon River Anthology, The New Star Chamber and Other Essays, Songs and Satires, The Great Valley, The...

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