Spoon River Anthology
by Edgar Lee Masters
Armstrong, Hannah Arnett, Harold Atherton, Lucius
Ballard, John Barker, Amanda Barrett, Pauline Bartlett, Ezra Bateson, Marie Beatty, Tom Beethoven, Isaiah Bennett, Hon. Henry Bindle, Nicholas Blind Jack Bliss, Mrs. Charles Blood, A. D. Bloyd, Wendell P. Bone, Richard Branson, Caroline Brown, Jim Brown, Sarah Browning, Elijah Burleson, John Horace Butler, Roy
Cabanis, Flossie Calhoun, Granville Calhoun, Henry C. Campbell, Calvin Carman, Eugene Cheney, Columbus Childers, Elizabeth Church, John M. Churchill, Alfonso Circuit Judge, The Clapp, Homer Clark, Nellie Clute, Aner Compton, Seth Conant, Edith Culbertson, E. C.
Davidson, Robert Dement, Silas Dixon, Joseph Drummer, Frank Drummer, Hare Dunlap, Enoch Dye, Shack
Fallas, State's Attorney Fawcett, Clarence Fluke, Willard Foote, Searcy Ford, Webster Fraser, Benjamin Fraser, Daisy French, Charlie Frickey, Ida
Garber, James Gardner, Samuel Garrick, Amelia Godbey, Jacob Goldman, Le Roy Goode, William Goodpasture, Jacob Graham, Magrady Gray, George Green, Ami Greene, Hamilton Griffy the Cooper Gustine, Dorcas
Hainsfeather, Barney Hamblin, Carl Hatfield, Aaron Hawkins, Elliott Hawley, Jeduthan Henry, Chase Herndon, William H. Heston, Roger Higbie, Archibald Hill, Doc Hill, The Hoheimer, Knowlt Holden, Barry Hookey, Sam Howard, Jefferson Hueffer, Cassius Hummel, Oscar Humphrey, Lydia Hutchins, Lambert Hyde, Ernest
James, Godwin Jones, Fiddler Jones, Franklin Jones, "Indignation" Jones, Minerva Jones, William
Karr, Elmer Keene, Jonas Kessler, Bert Kessler, Mrs. Killion, Captain Orlando Kincaid, Russell King, Lyman Knapp, Nancy Konovaloff, Ippolit Kritt, Dow
M'Cumber, Daniel McDowell, Rutherford McFarlane, Widow McGee, Fletcher McGee, Ollie M'Grew, Jennie M'Grew, Mickey McGuire, Jack McNeely, Mary McNeely, Washington Malloy, Father Many Soldiers Marsh, Zilpha Marshall, Herbert Mason, Serepta Matheny, Faith Matlock, Davis Matlock, Lucinda Melveny, Abel Merritt, Mrs. Merritt, Tom Metcalf, Willie Meyers, Doctor Meyers, Mrs. Micure, Hamlet Miles, I. Milton Miller, Julia Miner, Georgine Sand Moir, Alfred
Osborne, Mabel Otis, John Hancock
Pantier, Benjamin Pantier, Mrs. Benjamin Pantier, Reuben Peet, Rev. Abner Pennington, Willie Penniwit, the Artist Petit, the Poet Phipps, Henry Poague, Peleg Pollard, Edmund Potter, Cooney Puckett, Lydia Purkapile, Mrs. Purkapile, Roscoe Putt, Hod
Reece, Mrs. George Rhodes, Ralph Rhodes, Thomas Richter, Gustav Robbins, Hortense Roberts, Rosie Ross, Thomas, Ir. Russian Sonia Rutledge, Anne
Sayre, Johnnie Scates, Hiram Schirding, Albert Schmidt, Felix Scott, Julian Sewall, Harlan Sharp, Percival Shaw, "Ace" Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shope, Tennessee Claflin Sibley, Amos Sibley, Mrs. Simmons, Walter Sissman, Dillard Slack, Margaret Fuller Smith, Louise Somers, Jonathan Swift Somers, Judge Sparks, Emily Spooniad, The Standard, W. Lloyd Garrison Stewart, Lillian
Tanner, Robert Fulton Taylor, Deacon Theodore the Poet Throckmorton, Alexander Tompkins, Josiah Town Marshal, The Trainor, the Druggist Trevelyan, Thomas Trimble, George Tripp, Henry Tubbs, Hildrup Turner, Francis Tutt, Oaks
Village Atheist, The
Wasson, John Weirauch, Adam Weldy, "Butch" Wertman, Elsa Whedon, Editor Whitney, Harmon Wiley, Rev. Lemuel Will, Arlo William and Emily Williams, Dora Williams, Mrs. Wilmans, Harry Witt, Zenas
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.
HERE I lie close to the grave Of Old Bill Piersol, Who grew rich trading with the Indians, and who Afterwards took the Bankrupt Law And emerged from it richer than ever Myself grown tired of toil and poverty And beholding how Old Bill and other grew in wealth Robbed a traveler one Night near Proctor's Grove, Killing him unwittingly while doing so, For which I was tried and hanged. That was my way of going into bankruptcy. Now we who took the bankrupt law in our respective ways Sleep peacefully side by side.
Have you seen walking through the village A Man with downcast eyes and haggard face? That is my husband who, by secret cruelty Never to be told, robbed me of my youth and my beauty; Till at last, wrinkled and with yellow teeth, And with broken pride and shameful humility, I sank into the grave. But what think you gnaws at my husband's heart? The face of what I was, the face of what he made me! These are driving him to the place where I lie. In death, therefore, I am avenged.
She took my strength by minutes, She took my life by hours, She drained me like a fevered moon That saps the spinning world. The days went by like shadows, The minutes wheeled like stars. She took the pity from my heart, And made it into smiles. She was a hunk of sculptor's clay, My secret thoughts were fingers: They flew behind her pensive brow And lined it deep with pain. They set the lips, and sagged the cheeks, And drooped the eye with sorrow. My soul had entered in the clay, Fighting like seven devils. It was not mine, it was not hers; She held it, but its struggles Modeled a face she hated, And a face I feared to see. I beat the windows, shook the bolts. I hid me in a corner And then she died and haunted me, And hunted me for life.
Robert Fulton Tanner
If a man could bite the giant hand That catches and destroys him, As I was bitten by a rat While demonstrating my patent trap, In my hardware store that day. But a man can never avenge himself On the monstrous ogre Life. You enter the room that's being born; And then you must live work out your soul, Of the cross-current in life Which Bring honor to the dead, who lived in shame.
THEY have chiseled on my stone the words: "His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him That nature might stand up and say to all the world, This was a man." Those who knew me smile As they read this empty rhetoric. My epitaph should have been: "Life was not gentle to him, And the elements so mixed in him That he made warfare on life In the which he was slain." While I lived I could not cope with slanderous tongues, Now that I am dead I must submit to an epitaph Graven by a fool!
MY life's blossom might have bloomed on all sides Save for a bitter wind which stunted my petals On the side of me which you in the village could see. From the dust I lift a voice of protest: My flowering side you never saw! Ye living ones, ye are fools indeed Who do not know the ways of the wind And the unseen forces That govern the processes of life.
HENRY got me with child, Knowing that I could not bring forth life Without losing my own. In my youth therefore I entered the portals of dust. Traveler, it is believed in the village where I lived That Henry loved me with a husband's love But I proclaim from the dust That he slew me to gratify his hatred.
IN life I was the town drunkard; When I died the priest denied me burial In holy ground. The which redounded to my good fortune. For the Protestants bought this lot, And buried my body here, Close to the grave of the banker Nicholas, And of his wife Priscilla. Take note, ye prudent and pious souls, Of the cross—currents in life Which bring honor to the dead, who lived in shame
How does it happen, tell me, That I who was most erudite of lawyers, Who knew Blackstone and Coke Almost by heart, who made the greatest speech The court-house ever heard, and wrote A brief that won the praise of Justice Breese How does it happen, tell me, That I lie here unmarked, forgotten, While Chase Henry, the town drunkard, Has a marble block, topped by an urn Wherein Nature, in a mood ironical, Has sown a flowering weed?
TOGETHER in this grave lie Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law, And Nig, his dog, constant companion, solace and friend. Down the gray road, friends, children, men and women, Passing one by one out of life, left me till I was alone With Nig for partner, bed-fellow; comrade in drink. In the morning of life I knew aspiration and saw glory, The she, who survives me, snared my soul With a snare which bled me to death, Till I, once strong of will, lay broken, indifferent, Living with Nig in a room back of a dingy office. Under my Jaw-bone is snuggled the bony nose of Nig Our story is lost in silence. Go by, Mad world!
Mrs. Benjamin Pantier
I know that he told that I snared his soul With a snare which bled him to death. And all the men loved him, And most of the women pitied him. But suppose you are really a lady, and have delicate tastes, And loathe the smell of whiskey and onions, And the rhythm of Wordsworth's "Ode" runs in your ears, While he goes about from morning till night Repeating bits of that common thing; "Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?" And then, suppose; You are a woman well endowed, And the only man with whom the law and morality Permit you to have the marital relation Is the very man that fills you with disgust Every time you think of it while you think of it Every time you see him? That's why I drove him away from home To live with his dog in a dingy room Back of his office.
WELL, Emily Sparks, your prayers were not wasted, Your love was not all in vain. I owe whatever I was in life To your hope that would not give me up, To your love that saw me still as good. Dear Emily Sparks, let me tell you the story. I pass the effect of my father and mother; The milliner's daughter made me trouble And out I went in the world, Where I passed through every peril known Of wine and women and joy of life. One night, in a room in the Rue de Rivoli, I was drinking wine with a black-eyed cocotte, And the tears swam into my eyes. She though they were amorous tears and smiled For thought of her conquest over me. But my soul was three thousand miles away, In the days when you taught me in Spoon River. And just because you no more could love me, Nor pray for me, nor write me letters, The eternal silence of you spoke instead. And the Black-eyed cocotte took the tears for hers, As well as the deceiving kisses I gave her. Somehow, from that hour, I had a new vision Dear Emily Sparks!
Where is my boy, my boy In what far part of the world? The boy I loved best of all in the school?— I, the teacher, the old maid, the virgin heart, Who made them all my children. Did I know my boy aright, Thinking of him as a spirit aflame, Active, ever aspiring? Oh, boy, boy, for whom I prayed and prayed In many a watchful hour at night, Do you remember the letter I wrote you Of the beautiful love of Christ? And whether you ever took it or not, My, boy, wherever you are, Work for your soul's sake, That all the clay of you, all of the dross of you, May yield to the fire of you, Till the fire is nothing but light!... Nothing but light!
Trainor, the Druggist
Only the chemist can tell, and not always the chemist, What will result from compounding Fluids or solids. And who can tell How men and women will interact On each other, or what children will result? There were Benjamin Pantier and his wife, Good in themselves, but evil toward each other; He oxygen, she hydrogen, Their son, a devastating fire. I Trainor, the druggist, a miser of chemicals, Killed while making an experiment, Lived unwedded.
Did you ever hear of Editor Whedon Giving to the public treasury any of the money he received For supporting candidates for office? Or for writing up the canning factory To get people to invest? Or for suppressing the facts about the bank, When it was rotten and ready to break? Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge Helping anyone except the "Q" railroad, Or the bankers? Or did Rev. Peet or Rev. Sibley Give any part of their salary, earned by keeping still, Or speaking out as the leaders wished them to do, To the building of the water works? But I Daisy Fraser who always passed Along the street through rows of nods and smiles, And caughs and words such as "there she goes." Never was taken before Justice Arnett Without contributing ten dollars and costs To the school fund of Spoon River!
THEIR spirits beat upon mine Like the wings of a thousand butterflies. I closed my eyes and felt their spirits vibrating. I closed my eyes, yet I knew when their lashes Fringed their cheeks from downcast eyes, And when they turned their heads; And when their garments clung to them, Or fell from them, in exquisite draperies. Their spirits watched my ecstasy With wide looks of starry unconcern. Their spirits looked upon my torture; They drank it as it were the water of life; With reddened cheeks, brightened eyes, The rising flame of my soul made their spirits gilt, Like the wings of a butterfly drifting suddenly into sunlight. And they cried to me for life, life, life. But in taking life for myself, In seizing and crushing their souls, As a child crushes grapes and drinks From its palms the purple juice, I came to this wingless void, Where neither red, nor gold, nor wine, Nor the rhythm of life are known.
I AM Minerva, the village poetess, Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk, And all the more when "Butch" Weldy Captured me after a brutal hunt. He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers; And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up, Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice. Will some one go to the village newspaper, And gather into a book the verses I wrote?— I thirsted so for love I hungered so for life!
You would not believe, would you That I came from good Welsh stock? That I was purer blooded than the white trash here? And of more direct lineage than the New Englanders And Virginians of Spoon River? You would not believe that I had been to school And read some books. You saw me only as a run-down man With matted hair and beard And ragged clothes. Sometimes a man's life turns into a cancer From being bruised and continually bruised, And swells into a purplish mass Like growths on stalks of corn. Here was I, a carpenter, mired in a bog of life Into which I walked, thinking it was a meadow, With a slattern for a wife, and poor Minerva, my daughter, Whom you tormented and drove to death. So I crept, crept, like a snail through the days Of my life. No more you hear my footsteps in the morning, Resounding on the hollow sidewalk Going to the grocery store for a little corn meal And a nickel's worth of bacon.
AFTER I got religion and steadied down They gave me a job in the canning works, And every morning I had to fill The tank in the yard with gasoline, That fed the blow-fires in the sheds To heat the soldering irons. And I mounted a rickety ladder to do it, Carrying buckets full of the stuff. One morning, as I stood there pouring, The air grew still and seemed to heave, And I shot up as the tank exploded, And down I came with both legs broken, And my eyes burned crisp as a couple of eggs. For someone left a blow—fire going, And something sucked the flame in the tank. The Circuit Judge said whoever did it Was a fellow-servant of mine, and so Old Rhodes' son didn't have to pay me. And I sat on the witness stand as blind As lack the Fiddler, saying over and over, "I didn't know him at all."
No other man, unless it was Doc Hill, Did more for people in this town than I. And all the weak, the halt, the improvident And those who could not pay flocked to me. I was good-hearted, easy Doctor Meyers. I was healthy, happy, in comfortable fortune, Blest with a congenial mate, my children raised, All wedded, doing well in the world. And then one night, Minerva, the poetess, Came to me in her trouble, crying. I tried to help her out—she died— They indicted me, the newspapers disgraced me, My wife perished of a broken heart. And pneumonia finished me.
HE protested all his life long The newspapers lied about him villainously; That he was not at fault for Minerva's fall, But only tried to help her. Poor soul so sunk in sin he could not see That even trying to help her, as he called it, He had broken the law human and divine. Passers by, an ancient admonition to you: If your ways would be ways of pleasantness, And all your pathways peace, Love God and keep his commandments.
I WAS the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge. When I felt the bullet enter my heart I wished I had staid at home and gone to jail For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary, Instead of running away and joining the army. Rather a thousand times the county jail Than to lie under this marble figure with wings, And this granite pedestal Bearing the words, "Pro Patria." What do they mean, anyway?
KNOWLT HOHEIMER ran away to the war The day before Curl Trenary Swore out a warrant through Justice Arnett For stealing hogs. But that's not the reason he turned a soldier. He caught me running with Lucius Atherton. We quarreled and I told him never again To cross my path. Then he stole the hogs and went to the war— Back of every soldier is a woman.
OUT of a cell into this darkened space— The end at twenty-five! My tongue could not speak what stirred within me, And the village thought me a fool. Yet at the start there was a clear vision, A high and urgent purpose in my soul Which drove me on trying to memorize The Encyclopedia Britannica!
Do the boys and girls still go to Siever's For cider, after school, in late September? Or gather hazel nuts among the thickets On Aaron Hatfield's farm when the frosts begin? For many times with the laughing girls and boys Played I along the road and over the hills When the sun was low and the air was cool, Stopping to club the walnut tree Standing leafless against a flaming west. Now, the smell of the autumn smoke, And the dropping acorns, And the echoes about the vales Bring dreams of life. They hover over me. They question me: Where are those laughing comrades? How many are with me, how many In the old orchards along the way to Siever's, And in the woods that overlook The quiet water?
I WENT UP and down the streets Here and there by day and night, Through all hours of the night caring for the poor who were sick. Do you know why? My wife hated me, my son went to the dogs. And I turned to the people and poured out my love to them. Sweet it was to see the crowds about the lawns on the day of my funeral, And hear them murmur their love and sorrow. But oh, dear God, my soul trembled, scarcely able To hold to the railing of the new life When I saw Em Stanton behind the oak tree At the grave, Hiding herself, and her grief!
MAURICE, weep not, I am not here under this pine tree. The balmy air of spring whispers through the sweet grass, The stars sparkle, the whippoorwill calls, But thou grievest, while my soul lies rapturous In the blest Nirvana of eternal light! Go to the good heart that is my husband Who broods upon what he calls our guilty love:— Tell him that my love for you, no less than my love for him Wrought out my destiny—that through the flesh I won spirit, and through spirit, peace. There is no marriage in heaven But there is love.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
MY father who owned the wagon-shop And grew rich shoeing horses Sent me to the University of Montreal. I learned nothing and returned home, Roaming the fields with Bert Kessler, Hunting quail and snipe. At Thompson's Lake the trigger of my gun Caught in the side of the boat And a great hole was shot through my heart. Over me a fond father erected this marble shaft, On which stands the figure of a woman Carved by an Italian artist. They say the ashes of my namesake Were scattered near the pyramid of Caius Cestius Somewhere near Rome.
FROM Bindle's opera house in the village To Broadway is a great step. But I tried to take it, my ambition fired When sixteen years of age, Seeing "East Lynne," played here in the village By Ralph Barrett, the coming Romantic actor, who enthralled my soul. True, I trailed back home, a broken failure, When Ralph disappeared in New York, Leaving me alone in the city— But life broke him also. In all this place of silence There are no kindred spirits. How I wish Duse could stand amid the pathos Of these quiet fields And read these words.
WE quarreled that morning, For he was sixty—five, and I was thirty, And I was nervous and heavy with the child Whose birth I dreaded. I thought over the last letter written me By that estranged young soul Whose betrayal of me I had concealed By marrying the old man. Then I took morphine and sat down to read. Across the blackness that came over my eyes I see the flickering light of these words even now: "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day thou shalt Be with me in paradise."
FATHER, thou canst never know The anguish that smote my heart For my disobedience, the moment I felt The remorseless wheel of the engine Sink into the crying flesh of my leg. As they carried me to the home of widow Morris I could see the school-house in the valley To which I played truant to steal rides upon the trains. I prayed to live until I could ask your forgiveness— And then your tears, your broken words of comfort! From the solace of that hour I have gained infinite happiness. Thou wert wise to chisel for me: "Taken from the evil to come."
DID YOU ever find out Which one of the O'Brien boys it was Who snapped the toy pistol against my hand? There when the flags were red and white In the breeze and "Bucky" Estil Was firing the cannon brought to Spoon River From Vicksburg by Captain Harris; And the lemonade stands were running And the band was playing, To have it all spoiled By a piece of a cap shot under the skin of my hand, And the boys all crowding about me saying: "You'll die of lock-jaw, Charlie, sure." Oh, dear! oh, dear! What chum of mine could have done it?
I WAS sixteen, and I had the most terrible dreams, And specks before my eyes, and nervous weakness. And I couldn't remember the books I read, Like Frank Drummer who memorized page after page. And my back was weak, and I worried and worried, And I was embarrassed and stammered my lessons, And when I stood up to recite I'd forget Everything that I had studied. Well, I saw Dr. Weese's advertisement, And there I read everything in print, Just as if he had known me; And about the dreams which I couldn't help. So I knew I was marked for an early grave. And I worried until I had a cough And then the dreams stopped. And then I slept the sleep without dreams Here on the hill by the river.
Theodore the Poet
As a boy, Theodore, you sat for long hours On the shore of the turbid Spoon With deep-set eye staring at the door of the crawfish's burrow, Waiting for him to appear, pushing ahead, First his waving antennae, like straws of hay, And soon his body, colored like soap-stone, Gemmed with eyes of jet. And you wondered in a trance of thought What he knew, what he desired, and why he lived at all. But later your vision watched for men and women Hiding in burrows of fate amid great cities, Looking for the souls of them to come out, So that you could see How they lived, and for what, And why they kept crawling so busily Along the sandy way where water fails As the summer wanes.
The Town Marshal
THE: Prohibitionists made me Town Marshal When the saloons were voted out, Because when I was a drinking man, Before I joined the church, I killed a Swede At the saw-mill near Maple Grove. And they wanted a terrible man, Grim, righteous, strong, courageous, And a hater of saloons and drinkers, To keep law and order in the village. And they presented me with a loaded cane With which I struck Jack McGuire Before he drew the gun with which he killed The Prohibitionists spent their money in vain To hang him, for in a dream I appeared to one of the twelve jurymen And told him the whole secret story. Fourteen years were enough for killing me.
THEY would have lynched me Had I not been secretly hurried away To the jail at Peoria. And yet I was going peacefully home, Carrying my jug, a little drunk, When Logan, the marshal, halted me Called me a drunken hound and shook me And, when I cursed him for it, struck me With that Prohibition loaded cane— All this before I shot him. They would have hanged me except for this: My lawyer, Kinsey Keene, was helping to land Old Thomas Rhodes for wrecking the bank, And the judge was a friend of Rhodes And wanted him to escape, And Kinsey offered to quit on Rhodes For fourteen years for me. And the bargain was made. I served my time And learned to read and write.
WHEN Fort Sumter fell and the war came I cried out in bitterness of soul: "O glorious republic now no more!" When they buried my soldier son To the call of trumpets and the sound of drums My heart broke beneath the weight Of eighty years, and I cried: "Oh, son who died in a cause unjust! In the strife of Freedom slain!" And I crept here under the grass. And now from the battlements of time, behold: Thrice thirty million souls being bound together In the love of larger truth, Rapt in the expectation of the birth Of a new Beauty, Sprung from Brotherhood and Wisdom. I with eyes of spirit see the Transfiguration Before you see it. But ye infinite brood of golden eagles nesting ever higher, Wheeling ever higher, the sun-light wooing Of lofty places of Thought, Forgive the blindness of the departed owl.
I WAS not beloved of the villagers, But all because I spoke my mind, And met those who transgressed against me With plain remonstrance, hiding nor nurturing Nor secret griefs nor grudges. That act of the Spartan boy is greatly praised, Who hid the wolf under his cloak, Letting it devour him, uncomplainingly. It is braver, I think, to snatch the wolf forth And fight him openly, even in the street, Amid dust and howls of pain. The tongue may be an unruly member— But silence poisons the soul. Berate me who will—I am content.
Were you not ashamed, fellow citizens, When my estate was probated and everyone knew How small a fortune I left?— You who hounded me in life, To give, give, give to the churches, to the poor, To the village!—me who had already given much. And think you not I did not know That the pipe-organ, which I gave to the church, Played its christening songs when Deacon Rhodes, Who broke and all but ruined me, Worshipped for the first time after his acquittal?
I LEANED against the mantel, sick, sick, Thinking of my failure, looking into the abysm, Weak from the noon-day heat. A church bell sounded mournfully far away, I heard the cry of a baby, And the coughing of John Yarnell, Bed-ridden, feverish, feverish, dying, Then the violent voice of my wife: "Watch out, the potatoes are burning!" I smelled them . . . then there was irresistible disgust. I pulled the trigger . . . blackness . . . light . . . Unspeakable regret . . . fumbling for the world again. Too late! Thus I came here, With lungs for breathing . . . one cannot breathe here with lungs, Though one must breathe Of what use is it To rid one's self of the world, When no soul may ever escape the eternal destiny of life?
Margaret Fuller Slack
I WOULD have been as great as George Eliot But for an untoward fate. For look at the photograph of me made by Penniwit, Chin resting on hand, and deep—set eyes— Gray, too, and far-searching. But there was the old, old problem: Should it be celibacy, matrimony or unchastity? Then John Slack, the rich druggist, wooed me, Luring me with the promise of leisure for my novel, And I married him, giving birth to eight children, And had no time to write. It was all over with me, anyway, When I ran the needle in my hand While washing the baby's things, And died from lock—jaw, an ironical death. Hear me, ambitious souls, Sex is the curse of life.
Do you remember when I stood on the steps Of the Court House and talked free-silver, And the single-tax of Henry George? Then do you remember that, when the Peerless Leader Lost the first battle, I began to talk prohibition, And became active in the church? That was due to my wife, Who pictured to me my destruction If I did not prove my morality to the people. Well, she ruined me: For the radicals grew suspicious of me, And the conservatives were never sure of me— And here I lie, unwept of all.
I NEVER saw any difference Between playing cards for money And selling real estate, Practicing law, banking, or anything else. For everything is chance. Nevertheless Seest thou a man diligent in business? He shall stand before Kings!
MY wife lost her health, And dwindled until she weighed scarce ninety pounds. Then that woman, whom the men Styled Cleopatra, came along. And we—we married ones All broke our vows, myself among the rest. Years passed and one by one Death claimed them all in some hideous form And I was borne along by dreams Of God's particular grace for me, And I began to write, write, write, reams on reams Of the second coming of Christ. Then Christ came to me and said, "Go into the church and stand before the congregation And confess your sin." But just as I stood up and began to speak I saw my little girl, who was sitting in the front seat— My little girl who was born blind! After that, all is blackness.
OVER and over they used to ask me, While buying the wine or the beer, In Peoria first, and later in Chicago, Denver, Frisco, New York, wherever I lived How I happened to lead the life, And what was the start of it. Well, I told them a silk dress, And a promise of marriage from a rich man— (It was Lucius Atherton). But that was not really it at all. Suppose a boy steals an apple From the tray at the grocery store, And they all begin to call him a thief, The editor, minister, judge, and all the people— "A thief," "a thief," "a thief," wherever he goes And he can't get work, and he can't get bread Without stealing it, why the boy will steal. It's the way the people regard the theft of the apple That makes the boy what he is.
WHEN my moustache curled, And my hair was black, And I wore tight trousers And a diamond stud, I was an excellent knave of hearts and took many a trick. But when the gray hairs began to appear— Lo! a new generation of girls Laughed at me, not fearing me, And I had no more exciting adventures Wherein I was all but shot for a heartless devil, But only drabby affairs, warmed-over affairs Of other days and other men. And time went on until I lived at Mayer's restaurant, Partaking of short-orders, a gray, untidy, Toothless, discarded, rural Don Juan. . . . There is a mighty shade here who sings Of one named Beatrice; And I see now that the force that made him great Drove me to the dregs of life.
OFTEN Aner Clute at the gate Refused me the parting kiss, Saying we should be engaged before that; And just with a distant clasp of the hand She bade me good-night, as I brought her home From the skating rink or the revival. No sooner did my departing footsteps die away Than Lucius Atherton, (So I learned when Aner went to Peoria) Stole in at her window, or took her riding Behind his spanking team of bays Into the country. The shock of it made me settle down And I put all the money I got from my father's estate Into the canning factory, to get the job Of head accountant, and lost it all. And then I knew I was one of Life's fools, Whom only death would treat as the equal Of other men, making me feel like a man.
I BELONGED to the church, And to the party of prohibition; And the villagers thought I died of eating watermelon. In truth I had cirrhosis of the liver, For every noon for thirty years, I slipped behind the prescription partition In Trainor's drug store And poured a generous drink From the bottle marked "Spiritus frumenti."
I RAN away from home with the circus, Having fallen in love with Mademoiselle Estralada, The lion tamer. One time, having starved the lions For more than a day, I entered the cage and began to beat Brutus And Leo and Gypsy. Whereupon Brutus sprang upon me, And killed me. On entering these regions I met a shadow who cursed me, And said it served me right. . . . It was Robespierre!
I INHERITED forty acres from my Father And, by working my wife, my two sons and two daughters From dawn to dusk, I acquired A thousand acres. But not content, Wishing to own two thousand acres, I bustled through the years with axe and plow, Toiling, denying myself, my wife, my sons, my daughters. Squire Higbee wrongs me to say That I died from smoking Red Eagle cigars. Eating hot pie and gulping coffee During the scorching hours of harvest time Brought me here ere I had reached my sixtieth year.
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.
I WAS only eight years old; And before I grew up and knew what it meant I had no words for it, except That I was frightened and told my Mother; And that my Father got a pistol And would have killed Charlie, who was a big boy, Fifteen years old, except for his Mother. Nevertheless the story clung to me. But the man who married me, a widower of thirty-five, Was a newcomer and never heard it 'Till two years after we were married. Then he considered himself cheated, And the village agreed that I was not really a virgin. Well, he deserted me, and I died The following winter.
HERBERT broke our engagement of eight years When Annabelle returned to the village From the Seminary, ah me! If I had let my love for him alone It might have grown into a beautiful sorrow— Who knows?—filling my life with healing fragrance. But I tortured it, I poisoned it I blinded its eyes, and it became hatred— Deadly ivy instead of clematis. And my soul fell from its support Its tendrils tangled in decay. Do not let the will play gardener to your soul Unless you are sure It is wiser than your soul's nature.
ALL your sorrow, Louise, and hatred of me Sprang from your delusion that it was wantonness Of spirit and contempt of your soul's rights Which made me turn to Annabelle and forsake you. You really grew to hate me for love of me, Because I was your soul's happiness, Formed and tempered To solve your life for you, and would not. But you were my misery. If you had been My happiness would I not have clung to you? This is life's sorrow: That one can be happy only where two are; And that our hearts are drawn to stars Which want us not.
I HAVE studied many times The marble which was chiseled for me— A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor. In truth it pictures not my destination But my life. For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment; Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid; Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life. And now I know that we must lift the sail And catch the winds of destiny Wherever they drive the boat. To put meaning in one's life may end in madness, But life without meaning is the torture Of restlessness and vague desire— It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
Hon. Henry Bennett
IT never came into my mind Until I was ready to die That Jenny had loved me to death, with malice of heart. For I was seventy, she was thirty—five, And I wore myself to a shadow trying to husband Jenny, rosy Jenny full of the ardor of life. For all my wisdom and grace of mind Gave her no delight at all, in very truth, But ever and anon she spoke of the giant strength Of Willard Shafer, and of his wonderful feat Of lifting a traction engine out of the ditch One time at Georgie Kirby's. So Jenny inherited my fortune and married Willard— That mount of brawn! That clownish soul!
Griffy the Cooper
THE cooper should know about tubs. But I learned about life as well, And you who loiter around these graves Think you know life. You think your eye sweeps about a wide horizon, perhaps, In truth you are only looking around the interior of your tub. You cannot lift yourself to its rim And see the outer world of things, And at the same time see yourself. You are submerged in the tub of yourself— Taboos and rules and appearances, Are the staves of your tub. Break them and dispel the witchcraft Of thinking your tub is life And that you know life.
A. D. Blood
IF YOU in the village think that my work was a good one, Who closed the saloons and stopped all playing at cards, And haled old Daisy Fraser before Justice Arnett, In many a crusade to purge the people of sin; Why do you let the milliner's daughter Dora, And the worthless son of Benjamin Pantier Nightly make my grave their unholy pillow?
WHEN Reuben Pantier ran away and threw me I went to Springfield. There I met a lush, Whose father just deceased left him a fortune. He married me when drunk. My life was wretched. A year passed and one day they found him dead. That made me rich. I moved on to Chicago. After a time met Tyler Rountree, villain. I moved on to New York. A gray-haired magnate Went mad about me—so another fortune. He died one night right in my arms, you know. (I saw his purple face for years thereafter. ) There was almost a scandal. I moved on, This time to Paris. I was now a woman, Insidious, subtle, versed in the world and rich. My sweet apartment near the Champs Elysees Became a center for all sorts of people, Musicians, poets, dandies, artists, nobles, Where we spoke French and German, Italian, English. I wed Count Navigato, native of Genoa. We went to Rome. He poisoned me, I think. Now in the Campo Santo overlooking The sea where young Columbus dreamed new worlds, See what they chiseled: "Contessa Navigato Implora eterna quiete."
I WAS the milliner Talked about, lied about, Mother of Dora, Whose strange disappearance Was charged to her rearing. My eye quick to beauty Saw much beside ribbons And buckles and feathers And leghorns and felts, To set off sweet faces, And dark hair and gold. One thing I will tell you And one I will ask: The stealers of husbands Wear powder and trinkets, And fashionable hats. Wives, wear them yourselves. Hats may make divorces— They also prevent them. Well now, let me ask you: If all of the children, born here in Spoon River Had been reared by the County, somewhere on a farm; And the fathers and mothers had been given their freedom To live and enjoy, change mates if they wished, Do you think that Spoon River Had been any the worse?
William and Emily
THERE is something about Death Like love itself! If with some one with whom you have known passion And the glow of youthful love, You also, after years of life Together, feel the sinking of the fire And thus fade away together, Gradually, faintly, delicately, As it were in each other's arms, Passing from the familiar room— That is a power of unison between souls Like love itself!
The Circuit Judge
TAKE note, passers-by, of the sharp erosions Eaten in my head-stone by the wind and rain— Almost as if an intangible Nemesis or hatred Were marking scores against me, But to destroy, and not preserve, my memory. I in life was the Circuit judge, a maker of notches, Deciding cases on the points the lawyers scored, Not on the right of the matter. O wind and rain, leave my head-stone alone For worse than the anger of the wronged, The curses of the poor, Was to lie speechless, yet with vision clear, Seeing that even Hod Putt, the murderer, Hanged by my sentence, Was innocent in soul compared with me.
I HAD fiddled all day at the county fair. But driving home "Butch" Weldy and Jack McGuire, Who were roaring full, made me fiddle and fiddle To the song of Susie Skinner, while whipping the horses Till they ran away. Blind as I was, I tried to get out As the carriage fell in the ditch, And was caught in the wheels and killed. There's a blind man here with a brow As big and white as a cloud. And all we fiddlers, from highest to lowest, Writers of music and tellers of stories Sit at his feet, And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.
John Horace Burleson
I WON the prize essay at school Here in the village, And published a novel before I was twenty-five. I went to the city for themes and to enrich my art; There married the banker's daughter, And later became president of the bank— Always looking forward to some leisure To write an epic novel of the war. Meanwhile friend of the great, and lover of letters, And host to Matthew Arnold and to Emerson. An after dinner speaker, writing essays For local clubs. At last brought here— My boyhood home, you know— Not even a little tablet in Chicago To keep my name alive. How great it is to write the single line: "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll!"
WELL, don't you see this was the way of it: We bought the farm with what he inherited, And his brothers and sisters accused him of poisoning His fathers mind against the rest of them. And we never had any peace with our treasure. The murrain took the cattle, and the crops failed. And lightning struck the granary. So we mortgaged the farm to keep going. And he grew silent and was worried all the time. Then some of the neighbors refused to speak to us, And took sides with his brothers and sisters. And I had no place to turn, as one may say to himself, At an earlier time in life; "No matter, So and so is my friend, or I can shake this off With a little trip to Decatur." Then the dreadfulest smells infested the rooms. So I set fire to the beds and the old witch-house Went up in a roar of flame, As I danced in the yard with waving arms, While he wept like a freezing steer.
THE very fall my sister Nancy Knapp Set fire to the house They were trying Dr. Duval For the murder of Zora Clemens, And I sat in the court two weeks Listening to every witness. It was clear he had got her in a family And to let the child be born Would not do. Well, how about me with eight children, And one coming, and the farm Mortgaged to Thomas Rhodes? And when I got home that night, (After listening to the story of the buggy ride, And the finding of Zora in the ditch,) The first thing I saw, right there by the steps, Where the boys had hacked for angle worms, Was the hatchet! And just as I entered there was my wife, Standing before me, big with child. She started the talk of the mortgaged farm, And I killed her.
State's Attorney Fallas
I, THE scourge-wielder, balance-wrecker, Smiter with whips and swords; I, hater of the breakers of the law; I, legalist, inexorable and bitter, Driving the jury to hang the madman, Barry Holden, Was made as one dead by light too bright for eyes, And woke to face a Truth with bloody brow: Steel forceps fumbled by a doctor's hand Against my boy's head as he entered life Made him an idiot. I turned to books of science To care for him. That's how the world of those whose minds are sick Became my work in life, and all my world. Poor ruined boy! You were, at last, the potter And I and all my deeds of charity The vessels of your hand.
Wendell P. Bloyd
THEY first charged me with disorderly conduct, There being no statute on blasphemy. Later they locked me up as insane Where I was beaten to death by a Catholic guard. My offense was this: I said God lied to Adam, and destined him To lead the life of a fool, Ignorant that there is evil in the world as well as good. And when Adam outwitted God by eating the apple And saw through the lie, God drove him out of Eden to keep him from taking The fruit of immortal life. For Christ's sake, you sensible people, Here's what God Himself says about it in the book of Genesis: "And the Lord God said, behold the man Is become as one of us" (a little envy, you see), "To know good and evil" (The all-is-good lie exposed): "And now lest he put forth his hand and take Also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever: Therefore the Lord God sent Him forth from the garden of Eden." (The reason I believe God crucified His Own Son To get out of the wretched tangle is, because it sounds just like Him. )
I COULD not run or play In boyhood. In manhood I could only sip the cup, Not drink—For scarlet-fever left my heart diseased. Yet I lie here Soothed by a secret none but Mary knows: There is a garden of acacia, Catalpa trees, and arbors sweet with vines— There on that afternoon in June By Mary's side— Kissing her with my soul upon my lips It suddenly took flight.
IF I could have lived another year I could have finished my flying machine, And become rich and famous. Hence it is fitting the workman Who tried to chisel a dove for me Made it look more like a chicken. For what is it all but being hatched, And running about the yard, To the day of the block? Save that a man has an angel's brain, And sees the ax from the first!
John M. Church
I WAS attorney for the "Q" And the Indemnity Company which insured The owners of the mine. I pulled the wires with judge and jury, And the upper courts, to beat the claims Of the crippled, the widow and orphan, And made a fortune thereat. The bar association sang my praises In a high-flown resolution. And the floral tributes were many— But the rats devoured my heart And a snake made a nest in my skull
I, BORN in Weimar Of a mother who was French And German father, a most learned professor, Orphaned at fourteen years, Became a dancer, known as Russian Sonia, All up and down the boulevards of Paris, Mistress betimes of sundry dukes and counts, And later of poor artists and of poets. At forty years, passe, I sought New York And met old Patrick Hummer on the boat, Red-faced and hale, though turned his sixtieth year, Returning after having sold a ship-load Of cattle in the German city, Hamburg. He brought me to Spoon River and we lived here For twenty years—they thought that we were married This oak tree near me is the favorite haunt Of blue jays chattering, chattering all the day. And why not? for my very dust is laughing For thinking of the humorous thing called life. Barney Hainsfeather
IF the excursion train to Peoria Had just been wrecked, I might have escaped with my life— Certainly I should have escaped this place. But as it was burned as well, they mistook me For John Allen who was sent to the Hebrew Cemetery At Chicago, And John for me, so I lie here. It was bad enough to run a clothing store in this town, But to be buried here—ach!
Petit, the Poet
SEEDS in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick, Tick, tick, tick, like mites in a quarrel— Faint iambics that the full breeze wakens— But the pine tree makes a symphony thereof. Triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus, Ballades by the score with the same old thought: The snows and the roses of yesterday are vanished; And what is love but a rose that fades? Life all around me here in the village: Tragedy, comedy, valor and truth, Courage, constancy, heroism, failure— All in the loom, and oh what patterns! Woodlands, meadows, streams and rivers— Blind to all of it all my life long. Triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus, Seeds in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick, Tick, tick, tick, what little iambics, While Homer and Whitman roared in the pines?
ALMOST the shell of a woman after the surgeon's knife And almost a year to creep back into strength, Till the dawn of our wedding decennial Found me my seeming self again. We walked the forest together, By a path of soundless moss and turf. But I could not look in your eyes, And you could not look in my eyes, For such sorrow was ours—the beginning of gray in your hair. And I but a shell of myself. And what did we talk of?—sky and water, Anything, 'most, to hide our thoughts. And then your gift of wild roses, Set on the table to grace our dinner. Poor heart, how bravely you struggled To imagine and live a remembered rapture! Then my spirit drooped as the night came on, And you left me alone in my room for a while, As you did when I was a bride, poor heart. And I looked in the mirror and something said: "One should be all dead when one is half-dead—" Nor ever mock life, nor ever cheat love." And I did it looking there in the mirror— Dear, have you ever understood?
Mrs. Charles Bliss
REVEREND WILEY advised me not to divorce him For the sake of the children, And Judge Somers advised him the same. So we stuck to the end of the path. But two of the children thought he was right, And two of the children thought I was right. And the two who sided with him blamed me, And the two who sided with me blamed him, And they grieved for the one they sided with. And all were torn with the guilt of judging, And tortured in soul because they could not admire Equally him and me. Now every gardener knows that plants grown in cellars Or under stones are twisted and yellow and weak. And no mother would let her baby suck Diseased milk from her breast. Yet preachers and judges advise the raising of souls Where there is no sunlight, but only twilight, No warmth, but only dampness and cold— Preachers and judges!
Mrs. George Reece
To this generation I would say: Memorize some bit of verse of truth or beauty. It may serve a turn in your life. My husband had nothing to do With the fall of the bank—he was only cashier. The wreck was due to the president, Thomas Rhodes, And his vain, unscrupulous son. Yet my husband was sent to prison, And I was left with the children, To feed and clothe and school them. And I did it, and sent them forth Into the world all clean and strong, And all through the wisdom of Pope, the poet: "Act well your part, there all the honor lies."
Rev. Lemuel Wiley
I PREACHED four thousand sermons, I conducted forty revivals, And baptized many converts. Yet no deed of mine Shines brighter in the memory of the world, And none is treasured more by me: Look how I saved the Blisses from divorce, And kept the children free from that disgrace, To grow up into moral men and women, Happy themselves, a credit to the village.
Thomas Ross, Jr.
THIS I saw with my own eyes: A cliff—swallow Made her nest in a hole of the high clay-bank There near Miller's Ford. But no sooner were the young hatched Than a snake crawled up to the nest To devour the brood. Then the mother swallow with swift flutterings And shrill cries Fought at the snake, Blinding him with the beat of her wings, Until he, wriggling and rearing his head, Fell backward down the bank Into Spoon River and was drowned. Scarcely an hour passed Until a shrike Impaled the mother swallow on a thorn. As for myself I overcame my lower nature Only to be destroyed by my brother's ambition.
Rev. Abner Peet
I HAD no objection at all To selling my household effects at auction On the village square. It gave my beloved flock the chance To get something which had belonged to me For a memorial. But that trunk which was struck off To Burchard, the grog-keeper! Did you know it contained the manuscripts Of a lifetime of sermons? And he burned them as waste paper.
MY valiant fight! For I call it valiant, With my father's beliefs from old Virginia: Hating slavery, but no less war. I, full of spirit, audacity, courage Thrown into life here in Spoon River, With its dominant forces drawn from New England, Republicans, Calvinists, merchants, bankers, Hating me, yet fearing my arm. With wife and children heavy to carry— Yet fruits of my very zest of life. Stealing odd pleasures that cost me prestige, And reaping evils I had not sown; Foe of the church with its charnel dankness, Friend of the human touch of the tavern; Tangled with fates all alien to me, Deserted by hands I called my own. Then just as I felt my giant strength Short of breath, behold my children Had wound their lives in stranger gardens— And I stood alone, as I started alone My valiant life! I died on my feet, Facing the silence—facing the prospect That no one would know of the fight I made.
JONAS KEENE thought his lot a hard one Because his children were all failures. But I know of a fate more trying than that: It is to be a failure while your children are successes. For I raised a brood of eagles Who flew away at last, leaving me A crow on the abandoned bough. Then, with the ambition to prefix Honorable to my name, And thus to win my children's admiration, I ran for County Superintendent of Schools, Spending my accumulations to win—and lost. That fall my daughter received first prize in Paris For her picture, entitled, "The Old Mill"— (It was of the water mill before Henry Wilkin put in steam.) The feeling that I was not worthy of her finished me.
WHY did Albert Schirding kill himself Trying to be County Superintendent of Schools, Blest as he was with the means of life And wonderful children, bringing him honor Ere he was sixty? If even one of my boys could have run a news-stand, Or one of my girls could have married a decent man, I should not have walked in the rain And jumped into bed with clothes all wet, Refusing medical aid.
THEY got me into the Sunday-school In Spoon River And tried to get me to drop Confucius for Jesus. I could have been no worse off If I had tried to get them to drop Jesus for Confucius. For, without any warning, as if it were a prank, And sneaking up behind me, Harry Wiley, The minister's son, caved my ribs into my lungs, With a blow of his fist. Now I shall never sleep with my ancestors in Pekin, And no children shall worship at my grave.
RICH, honored by my fellow citizens, The father of many children, born of a noble mother, All raised there In the great mansion—house, at the edge of town. Note the cedar tree on the lawn! I sent all the boys to Ann Arbor, all of the girls to Rockford, The while my life went on, getting more riches and honors— Resting under my cedar tree at evening. The years went on. I sent the girls to Europe; I dowered them when married. I gave the boys money to start in business. They were strong children, promising as apples Before the bitten places show. But John fled the country in disgrace. Jenny died in child-birth— I sat under my cedar tree. Harry killed himself after a debauch, Susan was divorced— I sat under my cedar tree. Paul was invalided from over study, Mary became a recluse at home for love of a man— I sat under my cedar tree. All were gone, or broken-winged or devoured by life— I sat under my cedar tree. My mate, the mother of them, was taken— I sat under my cedar tree, Till ninety years were tolled. O maternal Earth, which rocks the fallen leaf to sleep.
PASSER-BY, To love is to find your own soul Through the soul of the beloved one. When the beloved one withdraws itself from your soul Then you have lost your soul. It is written: "l have a friend, But my sorrow has no friend." Hence my long years of solitude at the home of my father, Trying to get myself back, And to turn my sorrow into a supremer self. But there was my father with his sorrows, Sitting under the cedar tree, A picture that sank into my heart at last Bringing infinite repose. Oh, ye souls who have made life Fragrant and white as tube roses From earth's dark soil, Eternal peace!
WHEN I went to the city, Mary McNeely, I meant to return for you, yes I did. But Laura, my landlady's daughter, Stole into my life somehow, and won me away. Then after some years whom should I meet But Georgine Miner from Niles—a sprout Of the free love, Fourierist gardens that flourished Before the war all over Ohio. Her dilettante lover had tired of her, And she turned to me for strength and solace. She was some kind of a crying thing One takes in one's arms, and all at once It slimes your face with its running nose, And voids its essence all over you; Then bites your hand and springs away. And there you stand bleeding and smelling to heaven Why, Mary McNeely, I was not worthy To kiss the hem of your robe!
Georgine Sand Miner
A STEPMOTHER drove me from home, embittering me. A squaw-man, a flaneur and dilettante took my virtue. For years I was his mistress—no one knew. I learned from him the parasite cunning With which I moved with the bluffs, like a flea on a dog. All the time I was nothing but "very private," with different men. Then Daniel, the radical, had me for years. His sister called me his mistress; And Daniel wrote me: "Shameful word, soiling our beautiful love!" But my anger coiled, preparing its fangs. My Lesbian friend next took a hand. She hated Daniel's sister. And Daniel despised her midget husband. And she saw a chance for a poisonous thrust: I must complain to the wife of Daniel's pursuit! But before I did that I begged him to fly to London with me. "Why not stay in the city just as we have?" he asked. Then I turned submarine and revenged his repulse In the arms of my dilettante friend. Then up to the surface, Bearing the letter that Daniel wrote me To prove my honor was all intact, showing it to his wife, My Lesbian friend and everyone. If Daniel had only shot me dead! Instead of stripping me naked of lies A harlot in body and soul.
VERY well, you liberals, And navigators into realms intellectual, You sailors through heights imaginative, Blown about by erratic currents, tumbling into air pockets, You Margaret Fuller Slacks, Petits, And Tennessee Claflin Shopes— You found with all your boasted wisdom How hard at the last it is To keep the soul from splitting into cellular atoms. While we, seekers of earth's treasures Getters and hoarders of gold, Are self-contained, compact, harmonized, Even to the end.
Penniwit, the Artist
I LOST my patronage in Spoon River From trying to put my mind in the camera To catch the soul of the person. The very best picture I ever took Was of Judge Somers, attorney at law. He sat upright and had me pause Till he got his cross-eye straight. Then when he was ready he said "all right." And I yelled "overruled" and his eye turned up. And I caught him just as he used to look When saying "I except."
WHILE I was handling Dom Pedro I got at the thing that divides the race between men who are For singing "Turkey in the straw" or "There is a fountain filled with blood"— (Like Rile Potter used to sing it over at Concord). For cards, or for Rev. Peet's lecture on the holy land; For skipping the light fantastic, or passing the plate; For Pinafore, or a Sunday school cantata; For men, or for money; For the people or against them. This was it: Rev. Peet and the Social Purity Club, Headed by Ben Pantier's wife, Went to the Village trustees, And asked them to make me take Dom Pedro From the barn of Wash McNeely, there at the edge of town, To a barn outside of the corporation, On the ground that it corrupted public morals. Well, Ben Pantier and Fiddler Jones saved the day— They thought it a slam on colts.
I GREW spiritually fat living off the souls of men. If I saw a soul that was strong I wounded its pride and devoured its strength. The shelters of friendship knew my cunning For where I could steal a friend I did so. And wherever I could enlarge my power By undermining ambition, I did so, Thus to make smooth my own. And to triumph over other souls, Just to assert and prove my superior strength, Was with me a delight, The keen exhilaration of soul gymnastics. Devouring souls, I should have lived forever. But their undigested remains bred in me a deadly nephritis, With fear, restlessness, sinking spirits, Hatred, suspicion, vision disturbed. I collapsed at last with a shriek. Remember the acorn; It does not devour other acorns.
I WAS a peasant girl from Germany, Blue-eyed, rosy, happy and strong. And the first place I worked was at Thomas Greene's. On a summer's day when she was away He stole into the kitchen and took me Right in his arms and kissed me on my throat, I turning my head. Then neither of us Seemed to know what happened. And I cried for what would become of me. And cried and cried as my secret began to show. One day Mrs. Greene said she understood, And would make no trouble for me, And, being childless, would adopt it. (He had given her a farm to be still. ) So she hid in the house and sent out rumors, As if it were going to happen to her. And all went well and the child was born— They were so kind to me. Later I married Gus Wertman, and years passed. But—at political rallies when sitters-by thought I was crying At the eloquence of Hamilton Greene— That was not it. No! I wanted to say: That's my son! That's my son.
I WAS the only child of Frances Harris of Virginia And Thomas Greene of Kentucky, Of valiant and honorable blood both. To them I owe all that I became, Judge, member of Congress, leader in the State. From my mother I inherited Vivacity, fancy, language; From my father will, judgment, logic. All honor to them For what service I was to the people!
MY mind was a mirror: It saw what it saw, it knew what it knew. In youth my mind was just a mirror In a rapidly flying car, Which catches and loses bits of the landscape. Then in time Great scratches were made on the mirror, Letting the outside world come in, And letting my inner self look out. For this is the birth of the soul in sorrow, A birth with gains and losses. The mind sees the world as a thing apart, And the soul makes the world at one with itself. A mirror scratched reflects no image— And this is the silence of wisdom.
OH many times did Ernest Hyde and I Argue about the freedom of the will. My favorite metaphor was Prickett's cow Roped out to grass, and free you know as far As the length of the rope. One day while arguing so, watching the cow Pull at the rope to get beyond the circle Which she had eaten bare, Out came the stake, and tossing up her head, She ran for us. "What's that, free-will or what?" said Ernest, running. I fell just as she gored me to my death.
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.
THE secret of the stars—gravitation. The secret of the earth—layers of rock. The secret of the soil—to receive seed. The secret of the seed—the germ. The secret of man—the sower. The secret of woman—the soil. My secret: Under a mound that you shall never find.
I WAS crushed between Altgeld and Armour. I lost many friends, much time and money Fighting for Altgeld whom Editor Whedon Denounced as the candidate of gamblers and anarchists. Then Armour started to ship dressed meat to Spoon River, Forcing me to shut down my slaughter-house And my butcher shop went all to pieces. The new forces of Altgeld and Armour caught me At the same time. I thought it due me, to recoup the money I lost And to make good the friends that left me, For the Governor to appoint me Canal Commissioner. Instead he appointed Whedon of the Spoon River Argus, So I ran for the legislature and was elected. I said to hell with principle and sold my vote On Charles T. Yerkes' street-car franchise. Of course I was one of the fellows they caught. Who was it, Armour, Altgeld or myself That ruined me?
A CHAPLAIN in the army, A chaplain in the prisons, An exhorter in Spoon River, Drunk with divinity, Spoon River— Yet bringing poor Eliza Johnson to shame, And myself to scorn and wretchedness. But why will you never see that love of women, And even love of wine, Are the stimulants by which the soul, hungering for divinity, Reaches the ecstatic vision And sees the celestial outposts? Only after many trials for strength, Only when all stimulants fail, Does the aspiring soul By its own sheer power Find the divine By resting upon itself.
YES, here I lie close to a stunted rose bush In a forgotten place near the fence Where the thickets from Siever's woods Have crept over, growing sparsely. And you, you are a leader in New York, The wife of a noted millionaire, A name in the society columns, Beautiful, admired, magnified perhaps By the mirage of distance. You have succeeded, I have failed In the eyes of the world. You are alive, I am dead. Yet I know that I vanquished your spirit; And I know that lying here far from you, Unheard of among your great friends In the brilliant world where you move, I am really the unconquerable power over your life That robs it of complete triumph.
John Hancock Otis
As to democracy, fellow citizens, Are you not prepared to admit That I, who inherited riches and was to the manor born, Was second to none in Spoon River In my devotion to the cause of Liberty? While my contemporary, Anthony Findlay, Born in a shanty and beginning life As a water carrier to the section hands, Then becoming a section hand when he was grown, Afterwards foreman of the gang, until he rose To the superintendency of the railroad, Living in Chicago, Was a veritable slave driver, Grinding the faces of labor, And a bitter enemy of democracy. And I say to you, Spoon River, And to you, O republic, Beware of the man who rises to power From one suspender.
YE aspiring ones, listen to the story of the unknown Who lies here with no stone to mark the place. As a boy reckless and wanton, Wandering with gun in hand through the forest Near the mansion of Aaron Hatfield, I shot a hawk perched on the top Of a dead tree. He fell with guttural cry At my feet, his wing broken. Then I put him in a cage Where he lived many days cawing angrily at me When I offered him food. Daily I search the realms of Hades For the soul of the hawk, That I may offer him the friendship Of one whom life wounded and caged. Alexander Throckmorton
IN youth my wings were strong and tireless, But I did not know the mountains. In age I knew the mountains But my weary wings could not follow my vision— Genius is wisdom and youth.
Jonathan Swift Somers (Author of the Spooniad)
AFTER you have enriched your soul To the highest point, With books, thought, suffering, The understanding of many personalities, The power to interpret glances, silences, The pauses in momentous transformations, The genius of divination and prophecy; So that you feel able at times to hold the world In the hollow of your hand; Then, if, by the crowding of so many powers Into the compass of your soul, Your soul takes fire, And in the conflagration of your soul The evil of the world is lighted up and made clear— Be thankful if in that hour of supreme vision Life does not fiddle.
I WAS the Widow McFarlane, Weaver of carpets for all the village. And I pity you still at the loom of life, You who are singing to the shuttle And lovingly watching the work of your hands, If you reach the day of hate, of terrible truth. For the cloth of life is woven, you know, To a pattern hidden under the loom— A pattern you never see! And you weave high-hearted, singing, singing, You guard the threads of love and friendship For noble figures in gold and purple. And long after other eyes can see You have woven a moon-white strip of cloth, You laugh in your strength, for Hope overlays it With shapes of love and beauty. The loom stops short! The pattern's out You're alone in the room! You have woven a shroud And hate of it lays you in it.
THE press of the Spoon River Clarion was wrecked, And I was tarred and feathered, For publishing this on the day the Anarchists were hanged in Chicago: "l saw a beautiful woman with bandaged eyes Standing on the steps of a marble temple. Great multitudes passed in front of her, Lifting their faces to her imploringly. In her left hand she held a sword. She was brandishing the sword, Sometimes striking a child, again a laborer, Again a slinking woman, again a lunatic. In her right hand she held a scale; Into the scale pieces of gold were tossed By those who dodged the strokes of the sword. A man in a black gown read from a manuscript: "She is no respecter of persons." Then a youth wearing a red cap Leaped to her side and snatched away the bandage. And lo, the lashes had been eaten away From the oozy eye-lids; The eye-balls were seared with a milky mucus; The madness of a dying soul Was written on her face— But the multitude saw why she wore the bandage."
To be able to see every side of every question; To be on every side, to be everything, to be nothing long; To pervert truth, to ride it for a purpose, To use great feelings and passions of the human family For base designs, for cunning ends, To wear a mask like the Greek actors— Your eight-page paper—behind which you huddle, Bawling through the megaphone of big type: "This is I, the giant." Thereby also living the life of a sneak-thief, Poisoned with the anonymous words Of your clandestine soul. To scratch dirt over scandal for money, And exhume it to the winds for revenge, Or to sell papers, Crushing reputations, or bodies, if need be, To win at any cost, save your own life. To glory in demoniac power, ditching civilization, As a paranoiac boy puts a log on the track And derails the express train. To be an editor, as I was. Then to lie here close by the river over the place Where the sewage flows from the village, And the empty cans and garbage are dumped, And abortions are hidden.
RHODES, slave! Selling shoes and gingham, Flour and bacon, overalls, clothing, all day long For fourteen hours a day for three hundred and thirteen days For more than twenty years. Saying "Yes'm" and "Yes, sir", and "Thank you" A thousand times a day, and all for fifty dollars a month. Living in this stinking room in the rattle-trap "Commercial." And compelled to go to Sunday School, and to listen To the Rev. Abner Peet one hundred and four times a year For more than an hour at a time, Because Thomas Rhodes ran the church As well as the store and the bank. So while I was tying my neck-tie that morning I suddenly saw myself in the glass: My hair all gray, my face like a sodden pie. So I cursed and cursed: You damned old thing You cowardly dog! You rotten pauper! You Rhodes' slave! Till Roger Baughman Thought I was having a fight with some one, And looked through the transom just in time To see me fall on the floor in a heap From a broken vein in my head.
THE sudden death of Eugene Carman Put me in line to be promoted to fifty dollars a month, And I told my wife and children that night. But it didn't come, and so I thought Old Rhodes suspected me of stealing The blankets I took and sold on the side For money to pay a doctor's bill for my little girl. Then like a bolt old Rhodes accused me, And promised me mercy for my family's sake If I confessed, and so I confessed, And begged him to keep it out of the papers, And I asked the editors, too. That night at home the constable took me And every paper, except the Clarion, Wrote me up as a thief Because old Rhodes was an advertiser And wanted to make an example of me. Oh! well, you know how the children cried, And how my wife pitied and hated me, And how I came to lie here.
W. Lloyd Garrison Standard
VEGETARIAN, non—resistant, free-thinker, in ethics a Christian; Orator apt at the rhine-stone rhythm of Ingersoll. Carnivorous, avenger, believer and pagan. Continent, promiscuous, changeable, treacherous, vain, Proud, with the pride that makes struggle a thing for laughter; With heart cored out by the worm of theatric despair. Wearing the coat of indifference to hide the shame of defeat; I, child of the abolitionist idealism— A sort of Brand in a birth of half-and-half. What other thing could happen when I defended The patriot scamps who burned the court house That Spoon River might have a new one Than plead them guilty? When Kinsey Keene drove through The card—board mask of my life with a spear of light, What could I do but slink away, like the beast of myself Which I raised from a whelp, to a corner and growl? The pyramid of my life was nought but a dune, Barren and formless, spoiled at last by the storm.
EVERYONE laughed at Col. Prichard For buying an engine so powerful That it wrecked itself, and wrecked the grinder He ran it with. But here is a joke of cosmic size: The urge of nature that made a man Evolve from his brain a spiritual life— Oh miracle of the world!— The very same brain with which the ape and wolf Get food and shelter and procreate themselves. Nature has made man do this, In a world where she gives him nothing to do After all—(though the strength of his soul goes round In a futile waste of power. To gear itself to the mills of the gods)— But get food and shelter and procreate himself!
ALL they said was true: I wrecked my father's bank with my loans To dabble in wheat; but this was true— I was buying wheat for him as well, Who couldn't margin the deal in his name Because of his church relationship. And while George Reece was serving his term I chased the will-o-the-wisp of women And the mockery of wine in New York. It's deathly to sicken of wine and women When nothing else is left in life. But suppose your head is gray, and bowed On a table covered with acrid stubs Of cigarettes and empty glasses, And a knock is heard, and you know it's the knock So long drowned out by popping corks And the pea-cock screams of demireps— And you look up, and there's your Theft, Who waited until your head was gray, And your heart skipped beats to say to you: The game is ended. I've called for you, Go out on Broadway and be run over, They'll ship you back to Spoon River.
IT was just like everything else in life: Something outside myself drew me down, My own strength never failed me. Why, there was the time I earned the money With which to go away to school, And my father suddenly needed help And I had to give him all of it. Just so it went till I ended up A man-of—all-work in Spoon River. Thus when I got the water-tower cleaned, And they hauled me up the seventy feet, I unhooked the rope from my waist, And laughingly flung my giant arms Over the smooth steel lips of the top of the tower— But they slipped from the treacherous slime, And down, down, down, I plunged Through bellowing darkness!
I WAS sick, but more than that, I was mad At the crooked police, and the crooked game of life. So I wrote to the Chief of Police at Peoria: "l am here in my girlhood home in Spoon River, Gradually wasting away. But come and take me, I killed the son Of the merchant prince, in Madam Lou's And the papers that said he killed himself In his home while cleaning a hunting gun— Lied like the devil to hush up scandal For the bribe of advertising. In my room I shot him, at Madam Lou's, Because he knocked me down when I said That, in spite of all the money he had, I'd see my lover that night."
I STAGGERED on through darkness, There was a hazy sky, a few stars Which I followed as best I could. It was nine o'clock, I was trying to get home. But somehow I was lost, Though really keeping the road. Then I reeled through a gate and into a yard, And called at the top of my voice: "Oh, Fiddler! Oh, Mr. Jones!" (I thought it was his house and he would show me the way home. ) But who should step out but A. D. Blood, In his night shirt, waving a stick of wood, And roaring about the cursed saloons, And the criminals they made? "You drunken Oscar Hummel", he said, As I stood there weaving to and fro, Taking the blows from the stick in his hand Till I dropped down dead at his feet.
I WAS well known and much beloved And rich, as fortunes are reckoned In Spoon River, where I had lived and worked. That was the home for me, Though all my children had flown afar— Which is the way of Nature—all but one. The boy, who was the baby, stayed at home, To be my help in my failing years And the solace of his mother. But I grew weaker, as he grew stronger, And he quarreled with me about the business, And his wife said I was a hindrance to it; And he won his mother to see as he did, Till they tore me up to be transplanted With them to her girlhood home in Missouri. And so much of my fortune was gone at last, Though I made the will just as he drew it, He profited little by it.
SHE loved me. Oh! how she loved me I never had a chance to escape From the day she first saw me. But then after we were married I thought She might prove her mortality and let me out, Or she might divorce me. But few die, none resign. Then I ran away and was gone a year on a lark. But she never complained. She said all would be well That I would return. And I did return. I told her that while taking a row in a boat I had been captured near Van Buren Street By pirates on Lake Michigan, And kept in chains, so I could not write her. She cried and kissed me, and said it was cruel, Outrageous, inhuman! I then concluded our marriage Was a divine dispensation And could not be dissolved, Except by death. I was right.
HE ran away and was gone for a year. When he came home he told me the silly story Of being kidnapped by pirates on Lake Michigan And kept in chains so he could not write me. I pretended to believe it, though I knew very well What he was doing, and that he met The milliner, Mrs. Williams, now and then When she went to the city to buy goods, as she said. But a promise is a promise And marriage is marriage, And out of respect for my own character I refused to be drawn into a divorce By the scheme of a husband who had merely grown tired Of his marital vow and duty.
MR. KESSLER, you know, was in the army, And he drew six dollars a month as a pension, And stood on the corner talking politics, Or sat at home reading Grant's Memoirs; And I supported the family by washing, Learning the secrets of all the people From their curtains, counterpanes, shirts and skirts. For things that are new grow old at length, They're replaced with better or none at all: People are prospering or falling back. And rents and patches widen with time; No thread or needle can pace decay, And there are stains that baffle soap, And there are colors that run in spite of you, Blamed though you are for spoiling a dress. Handkerchiefs, napery, have their secrets— The laundress, Life, knows all about it. And I, who went to all the funerals Held in Spoon River, swear I never Saw a dead face without thinking it looked Like something washed and ironed.
OUT of the lights and roar of cities, Drifting down like a spark in Spoon River, Burnt out with the fire of drink, and broken, The paramour of a woman I took in self-contempt, But to hide a wounded pride as well. To be judged and loathed by a village of little minds— I, gifted with tongues and wisdom, Sunk here to the dust of the justice court, A picker of rags in the rubbage of spites and wrongs,— I, whom fortune smiled on! I in a village, Spouting to gaping yokels pages of verse, Out of the lore of golden years, Or raising a laugh with a flash of filthy wit When they bought the drinks to kindle my dying mind. To be judged by you, The soul of me hidden from you, With its wound gangrened By love for a wife who made the wound, With her cold white bosom, treasonous, pure and hard, Relentless to the last, when the touch of her hand, At any time, might have cured me of the typhus, Caught in the jungle of life where many are lost. And only to think that my soul could not react, Like Byron's did, in song, in something noble, But turned on itself like a tortured snake—judge me this way, O world.
I WINGED my bird, Though he flew toward the setting sun; But just as the shot rang out, he soared Up and up through the splinters of golden light, Till he turned right over, feathers ruffled, With some of the down of him floating near, And fell like a plummet into the grass. I tramped about, parting the tangles, Till I saw a splash of blood on a stump, And the quail lying close to the rotten roots. I reached my hand, but saw no brier, But something pricked and stung and numbed it. And then, in a second, I spied the rattler— The shutters wide in his yellow eyes, The head of him arched, sunk back in the rings of him, A circle of filth, the color of ashes, Or oak leaves bleached under layers of leaves. I stood like a stone as he shrank and uncoiled And started to crawl beneath the stump, When I fell limp in the grass.
I HAVE two monuments besides this granite obelisk: One, the house I built on the hill, With its spires, bay windows, and roof of slate. The other, the lake-front in Chicago, Where the railroad keeps a switching yard, With whistling engines and crunching wheels And smoke and soot thrown over the city, And the crash of cars along the boulevard,— A blot like a hog-pen on the harbor Of a great metropolis, foul as a sty. I helped to give this heritage To generations yet unborn, with my vote In the House of Representatives, And the lure of the thing was to be at rest From the never—ending fright of need, And to give my daughters gentle breeding, And a sense of security in life. But, you see, though I had the mansion house And traveling passes and local distinction, I could hear the whispers, whispers, whispers, Wherever I went, and my daughters grew up With a look as if some one were about to strike them; And they married madly, helter-skelter, Just to get out and have a change. And what was the whole of the business worth? Why, it wasn't worth a damn!
I WAS the daughter of Lambert Hutchins, Born in a cottage near the grist—mill, Reared in the mansion there on the hill, With its spires, bay—windows, and roof of slate. How proud my mother was of the mansion How proud of father's rise in the world! And how my father loved and watched us, And guarded our happiness. But I believe the house was a curse, For father's fortune was little beside it; And when my husband found he had married A girl who was really poor, He taunted me with the spires, And called the house a fraud on the world, A treacherous lure to young men, raising hopes Of a dowry not to be had; And a man while selling his vote Should get enough from the people's betrayal To wall the whole of his family in. He vexed my life till I went back home And lived like an old maid till I died, Keeping house for father.
MY name used to be in the papers daily As having dined somewhere, Or traveled somewhere, Or rented a house in Paris, Where I entertained the nobility. I was forever eating or traveling, Or taking the cure at Baden-Baden. Now I am here to do honor To Spoon River, here beside the family whence I sprang. No one cares now where I dined, Or lived, or whom I entertained, Or how often I took the cure at Baden-Baden.
How did you feel, you libertarians, Who spent your talents rallying noble reasons Around the saloon, as if Liberty Was not to be found anywhere except at the bar Or at a table, guzzling? How did you feel, Ben Pantier, and the rest of you, Who almost stoned me for a tyrant Garbed as a moralist, And as a wry-faced ascetic frowning upon Yorkshire pudding, Roast beef and ale and good will and rosy cheer— Things you never saw in a grog-shop in your life? How did you feel after I was dead and gone, And your goddess, Liberty, unmasked as a strumpet, Selling out the streets of Spoon River To the insolent giants Who manned the saloons from afar? Did it occur to you that personal liberty Is liberty of the mind, Rather than of the belly?
MY parents thought that I would be As great as Edison or greater: For as a boy I made balloons And wondrous kites and toys with clocks And little engines with tracks to run on And telephones of cans and thread. I played the cornet and painted pictures, Modeled in clay and took the part Of the villain in the "Octoroon." But then at twenty—one I married And had to live, and so, to live I learned the trade of making watches And kept the jewelry store on the square, Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking,— Not of business, but of the engine I studied the calculus to build. And all Spoon River watched and waited To see it work, but it never worked. And a few kind souls believed my genius Was somehow hampered by the store. It wasn't true. The truth was this: I did not have the brains.
I WAS a lawyer like Harmon Whitney Or Kinsey Keene or Garrison Standard, For I tried the rights of property, Although by lamp-light, for thirty years, In that poker room in the opera house. And I say to you that Life's a gambler Head and shoulders above us all. No mayor alive can close the house. And if you lose, you can squeal as you will; You'll not get back your money. He makes the percentage hard to conquer; He stacks the cards to catch your weakness And not to meet your strength. And he gives you seventy years to play: For if you cannot win in seventy You cannot win at all. So, if you lose, get out of the room— Get out of the room when your time is up. It's mean to sit and fumble the cards And curse your losses, leaden-eyed, Whining to try and try.
IF the learned Supreme Court of Illinois Got at the secret of every case As well as it does a case of rape It would be the greatest court in the world. A jury, of neighbors mostly, with "Butch" Weldy As foreman, found me guilty in ten minutes And two ballots on a case like this: Richard Bandle and I had trouble over a fence And my wife and Mrs. Bandle quarreled As to whether Ipava was a finer town than Table Grove. I awoke one morning with the love of God Brimming over my heart, so I went to see Richard To settle the fence in the spirit of Jesus Christ. I knocked on the door, and his wife opened; She smiled and asked me in. I entered— She slammed the door and began to scream, "Take your hands off, you low down varlet!" Just then her husband entered. I waved my hands, choked up with words. He went for his gun, and I ran out. But neither the Supreme Court nor my wife Believed a word she said.
I WANTED to go away to college But rich Aunt Persis wouldn't help me. So I made gardens and raked the lawns And bought John Alden's books with my earnings And toiled for the very means of life. I wanted to marry Delia Prickett, But how could I do it with what I earned? And there was Aunt Persis more than seventy Who sat in a wheel-chair half alive With her throat so paralyzed, when she swallowed The soup ran out of her mouth like a duck— A gourmand yet, investing her income In mortgages, fretting all the time About her notes and rents and papers. That day I was sawing wood for her, And reading Proudhon in between. I went in the house for a drink of water, And there she sat asleep in her chair, And Proudhon lying on the table, And a bottle of chloroform on the book, She used sometimes for an aching tooth! I poured the chloroform on a handkerchief And held it to her nose till she died.— Oh Delia, Delia, you and Proudhon Steadied my hand, and the coroner Said she died of heart failure. I married Delia and got the money— A joke on you, Spoon River?
I WOULD I had thrust my hands of flesh Into the disk—flowers bee-infested, Into the mirror-like core of fire Of the light of life, the sun of delight. For what are anthers worth or petals Or halo-rays? Mockeries, shadows Of the heart of the flower, the central flame All is yours, young passer-by; Enter the banquet room with the thought; Don't sidle in as if you were doubtful Whether you're welcome—the feast is yours! Nor take but a little, refusing more With a bashful "Thank you", when you're hungry. Is your soul alive? Then let it feed! Leave no balconies where you can climb; Nor milk-white bosoms where you can rest; Nor golden heads with pillows to share; Nor wine cups while the wine is sweet; Nor ecstasies of body or soul, You will die, no doubt, but die while living In depths of azure, rapt and mated, Kissing the queen-bee, Life!
READING in Ovid the sorrowful story of Itys, Son of the love of Tereus and Procne, slain For the guilty passion of Tereus for Philomela, The flesh of him served to Tereus by Procne, And the wrath of Tereus, the murderess pursuing Till the gods made Philomela a nightingale, Lute of the rising moon, and Procne a swallow Oh livers and artists of Hellas centuries gone, Sealing in little thuribles dreams and wisdom, Incense beyond all price, forever fragrant, A breath whereof makes clear the eyes of the soul How I inhaled its sweetness here in Spoon River! The thurible opening when I had lived and learned How all of us kill the children of love, and all of us, Knowing not what we do, devour their flesh; And all of us change to singers, although it be But once in our lives, or change—alas!—to swallows, To twitter amid cold winds and falling leaves!
OBSERVE the clasped hands! Are they hands of farewell or greeting, Hands that I helped or hands that helped me? Would it not be well to carve a hand With an inverted thumb, like Elagabalus? And yonder is a broken chain, The weakest-link idea perhaps—but what was it? And lambs, some lying down, Others standing, as if listening to the shepherd— Others bearing a cross, one foot lifted up— Why not chisel a few shambles? And fallen columns! Carve the pedestal, please, Or the foundations; let us see the cause of the fall. And compasses and mathematical instruments, In irony of the under tenants, ignorance Of determinants and the calculus of variations. And anchors, for those who never sailed. And gates ajar—yes, so they were; You left them open and stray goats entered your garden. And an eye watching like one of the Arimaspi— So did you—with one eye. And angels blowing trumpets—you are heralded— It is your horn and your angel and your family's estimate. It is all very well, but for myself I know I stirred certain vibrations in Spoon River Which are my true epitaph, more lasting than stone.
I TRIED to win the nomination For president of the County-board And I made speeches all over the County Denouncing Solomon Purple, my rival, As an enemy of the people, In league with the master-foes of man. Young idealists, broken warriors, Hobbling on one crutch of hope, Souls that stake their all on the truth, Losers of worlds at heaven's bidding, Flocked about me and followed my voice As the savior of the County. But Solomon won the nomination; And then I faced about, And rallied my followers to his standard, And made him victor, made him King Of the Golden Mountain with the door Which closed on my heels just as I entered, Flattered by Solomon's invitation, To be the County—board's secretary. And out in the cold stood all my followers: Young idealists, broken warriors Hobbling on one crutch of hope— Souls that staked their all on the truth, Losers of worlds at heaven's bidding, Watching the Devil kick the Millennium Over the Golden Mountain.
HORSES and men are just alike. There was my stallion, Billy Lee, Black as a cat and trim as a deer, With an eye of fire, keen to start, And he could hit the fastest speed Of any racer around Spoon River. But just as you'd think he couldn't lose, With his lead of fifty yards or more, He'd rear himself and throw the rider, And fall back over, tangled up, Completely gone to pieces. You see he was a perfect fraud: He couldn't win, he couldn't work, He was too light to haul or plow with, And no one wanted colts from him. And when I tried to drive him—well, He ran away and killed me.
THERE would be a knock at the door And I would arise at midnight and go to the shop, Where belated travelers would hear me hammering Sepulchral boards and tacking satin. And often I wondered who would go with me To the distant land, our names the theme For talk, in the same week, for I've observed Two always go together. Chase Henry was paired with Edith Conant; And Jonathan Somers with Willie Metcalf; And Editor Hamblin with Francis Turner, When he prayed to live longer than Editor Whedon, And Thomas Rhodes with widow McFarlane; And Emily Sparks with Barry Holden; And Oscar Hummel with Davis Matlock; And Editor Whedon with Fiddler Jones; And Faith Matheny with Dorcas Gustine. And I, the solemnest man in town, Stepped off with Daisy Fraser.
I BOUGHT every kind of machine that's known— Grinders, shellers, planters, mowers, Mills and rakes and ploughs and threshers— And all of them stood in the rain and sun, Getting rusted, warped and battered, For I had no sheds to store them in, And no use for most of them. And toward the last, when I thought it over, There by my window, growing clearer About myself, as my pulse slowed down, And looked at one of the mills I bought— Which I didn't have the slightest need of, As things turned out, and I never ran— A fine machine, once brightly varnished, And eager to do its work, Now with its paint washed off— I saw myself as a good machine That Life had never used.
MY mother was for woman's rights And my father was the rich miller at London Mills. I dreamed of the wrongs of the world and wanted to right them. When my father died, I set out to see peoples and countries In order to learn how to reform the world. I traveled through many lands. I saw the ruins of Rome And the ruins of Athens, And the ruins of Thebes. And I sat by moonlight amid the necropolis of Memphis. There I was caught up by wings of flame, And a voice from heaven said to me: "Injustice, Untruth destroyed them. Go forth Preach Justice! Preach Truth!" And I hastened back to Spoon River To say farewell to my mother before beginning my work. They all saw a strange light in my eye. And by and by, when I talked, they discovered What had come in my mind. Then Jonathan Swift Somers challenged me to debate The subject, (I taking the negative): "Pontius Pilate, the Greatest Philosopher of the World." And he won the debate by saying at last, "Before you reform the world, Mr. Tutt Please answer the question of Pontius Pilate: "What is Truth?"
I LOOKED like Abraham Lincoln. I was one of you, Spoon River, in all fellowship, But standing for the rights of property and for order. A regular church attendant, Sometimes appearing in your town meetings to warn you Against the evils of discontent and envy And to denounce those who tried to destroy the Union, And to point to the peril of the Knights of Labor. My success and my example are inevitable influences In your young men and in generations to come, In spite of attacks of newspapers like the Clarion; A regular visitor at Springfield When the Legislature was in session To prevent raids upon the railroads And the men building up the state. Trusted by them and by you, Spoon River, equally In spite of the whispers that I was a lobbyist. Moving quietly through the world, rich and courted. Dying at last, of course, but lying here Under a stone with an open book carved upon it And the words "Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." And now, you world-savers, who reaped nothing in life And in death have neither stones nor epitaphs, How do you like your silence from mouths stopped With the dust of my triumphant career?