Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

Contents: 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,
Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
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  • 1915
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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

Ehrenhardt, Imanuel

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

Layton, Henry

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

Newcomer, Professor

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

Unknown, The

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

Yee Bow

Zoll, Perry

The Hill

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley, The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter? All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife- All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith, The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?– All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel, One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire; One after life in far-away London and Paris Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag– All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily, And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton, And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?– All, all are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war, And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying– All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill. Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years, Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin, Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago, Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove, Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

Hod Putt

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.

Ollie McGee

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.

Fletcher McGee

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.

Cassius Hueffer

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!

Serepta Mason

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.

Amanda Barker

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.

Chase Henry

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

Judge Somers

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?

Benjamin Pantier

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.

Reuben Pantier

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!

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.

Daisy Fraser

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!

Benjamin Fraser

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.

Minerva Jones

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!

“Indignation” Jones

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.

“Butch” Weldy

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, “l didn’t know him at all.”

Doctor Meyers

No other man, unless it was Doc Hill, Did more for people in this town than l. 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.

Mrs. Meyers

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.

Knowlt Hoheimer

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?

Lydia Puckett

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.

Frank Drummer

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!

Hare Drummer

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?

Doc Hill

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!

Sarah Brown

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.

Flossie Cabanis

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.

Julia Miller

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.”

Johnnie Sayre

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.”

Charlie French

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?

Zenas Witt

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.

Jack McGuire

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.

Jacob Goodpasture

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.

Dorcas Gustine

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.

Nicholas Bindle

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?

Harold Arnett

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.

George Trimble

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.

“Ace” Shaw

I NEVER saw any difference
Between playing cards for money
And selling real estate,
Practicing law, banking, or anything else. For everything is chance.
Seest thou a man diligent in business? He shall stand before Kings!

Willard Fluke

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.

Aner Clute

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.

Lucius Atherton

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.

Homer Clapp

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.

Deacon Taylor

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.”

Sam Hookey

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!

Cooney Potter

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.

Fiddler Jones

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.

Nellie Clark

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.

Louise Smith

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.

Herbert Marshall

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.

George Gray

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?

Dora Williams

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.”

Mrs. Williams

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.

Blind Jack

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!”

Nancy Knapp

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.

Barry Holden

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

l, 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. )

Francis Turner

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.

Franklin Jones

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

Russian Sonia

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?

Pauline Barrett

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.

Jefferson Howard

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.

Albert Schirding

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.

Jonas Keene

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.

Yee Bow

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.

Washington McNeely

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.

Mary McNeely

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!

Daniel M’Cumber

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.

Thomas Rhodes

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 “l except.”

Jim Brown

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,