Poetry Monday on EPIC Radio
Edgar Lee Masters
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Edgar Lee Masters was born on August 23, 1868 in Garnett, Kansas, where his father had briefly moved his family in order to set up a law practice. Soon, however, the family returned to the western Illinois farmlands, and Masters attended public schools in Petersburg and Lewistown. He attended Knox College for a year but was forced to withdraw because of his family's financial difficulties. He read law with his father and was admitted to bar in 1891. He practiced law for nearly thirty years, first in Chicago and later in New York. For several years beginning in 1903, he was the law partner of Clarence Darrow. Darrow is remembered today for his defense of John Thomas Scopes who was prosecuted for teaching evolution in Tennessee in 1925. Masters published several books and plays, some pseudonymously to protect his legal practice, before his masterwork, Spoon River Anthology, appeared in 1915. The book is a series of over 200 short free verse dramatic monologues spoken in the voices of deceased residents of the fictional town of Spoon River. The collection was considered scandalous because of its frank treatment of topics such as sex, suicide, abortion, blasphemy, and hypocrisy. It proved wildly popular, going through several editions rapidly, and became a classic in American literature. Although Masters continued to write throughout the rest of his life, he would never again equal the critical and popular success of Spoon River Anthology. He died on March 5, 1950 in a convalescent home in Philadelphia, PA. His body was returned to Petersburg, Illinois, to be buried.
This week's featured poem is "Fiddler Jones," from Spoon River Anthology.
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 the 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.