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Spoon River Anthology

Spoon River Anthology

3.9 26
by Edgar Lee Masters, Jerome Loving (Introduction)

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In 1915, Edgar Lee Masters published a book of dramatic monologues written in free verse about a fictional town called Spoon River. Based on the midwestern towns where Edgar Lee Masters grew up, the shocking scandals and secret tragedies of Spoon River were immediately recognized by readers as authentic. Masters raises the dead "sleeping on the hill" in the village


In 1915, Edgar Lee Masters published a book of dramatic monologues written in free verse about a fictional town called Spoon River. Based on the midwestern towns where Edgar Lee Masters grew up, the shocking scandals and secret tragedies of Spoon River were immediately recognized by readers as authentic. Masters raises the dead "sleeping on the hill" in the village cemetery to tell the truth about their lives, and their testimony topples the American myth of the moral superiority of small-town life. Spoon River is as undeniably corrupt and truel as the big city, and is home to murderers, drunkards, crooked bankers, lechers, bitter wives and abusive husbands, failed dreamers, and a few good souls. The freshness of this landmark work has not diminished, and Spoon River Anthology remains an American classic.

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Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Penguin Classics Series
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Product dimensions:
5.09(w) x 7.71(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Spoon River Anthology

By Edgar Lee Masters

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1996 Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-0572-9


    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 Fiddle: 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 others grew in
    Robbed a traveler one night near Proctor's Grove,
    Killing him unwittingly while doing so,
    For the which I was tried and hanged.
    That was my way of going into bankruptcy.
    Now we who took the bankrupt law in our respective
    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
    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
    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 eyes 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,
    Aha! the bait that you crave is in view:
    A woman with money you want to marry,
    Prestige, place, or power in the world.
    But there's work to do and things to conquer —
    Oh, yes! the wires that screen the bait.
    At last you get in — but you hear a step:
    The ogre, Life, comes into the room,
    (He was waiting and heard the clang of the spring)
    To watch you nibble the wondrous cheese,
    And stare with his burning eyes at you,
    And scowl and laugh, and mock and curse you,
    Running up and down in the trap,
    Until your misery bores him.

    Cassius Hueffer

    They have chiseled on my stone the words:
    "His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in
    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
    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
    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.

    Constance Hately

    You praise my self-sacrifice, Spoon River,
    In rearing Irene and Mary,
    Orphans of my older sister!
    And you censure Irene and Mary
    For their contempt for me!
    But praise not my self-sacrifice,
    And censure not their contempt;
    I reared them, I cared for them, true enough! —
    But I poisoned my benefactions
    With constant reminders of their dependence.

    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.

    Harry Carey Goodhue

    You never marveled, dullards of Spoon River,
    When Chase Henry voted against the saloons
    To revenge himself for being shut off.
    But none of you was keen enough
    To follow my steps, or trace me home
    As Chase's spiritual brother.
    Do you remember when I fought
    The bank and the courthouse ring,
    For pocketing the interest on public funds?
    And when I fought our leading citizens
    For making the poor the pack-horses of the taxes?
    And when I fought the water works
    For stealing streets and raising rates?
    And when I fought the business men
    Who fought me in these fights?
    Then do you remember:
    That staggering up from the wreck of defeat,
    And the wreck of a ruined career,
    I slipped from my cloak my last ideal,
    Hidden from all eyes until then,
    Like the cherished jawbone of an ass,
    And smote the bank and the water works,
    And the business men with prohibition,
    And made Spoon River pay the cost
    Of the fights that I had lost.

    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?

    Kinsey Keene

    Your attention, Thomas Rhodes, president of the
    Coolbaugh Whedon, editor of the Argus;
    Rev. Peet, pastor of the leading church;
    A. D. Blood, several times Mayor of Spoon River;
    And finally all of you, members of the Social Purity
    Club —
    Your attention to Cambronne's dying words,
    Standing with the heroic remnant
    Of Napoleon's guard on Mount Saint Jean
    At the battle field of Waterloo,
    When Maitland, the Englishman, called to them:
    "Surrender, brave Frenchmen!" —
    There at close of day with the battle hopelessly lost,
    And hordes of men no longer the army
    Of the great Napoleon
    Streamed from the field like ragged strips
    Of thunder clouds in the storm.
    Well, what Cambronne said to Maitland
    Ere the English fire made smooth the brow of the
    Against the sinking light of day
    Say I to you, and all of you,
    And to you, 0 world.
    And I charge you to carve it
    Upon my stone.

    Benjamin Pantier

    Together in this grave lie Benjamin Pantier, attorney
    at law,
    And Nig, his dog, constant companion, solace and
    Down the gray road, friends, children, men and
    Passing one by one out of life, left me till I was
    With Nig for partner, bed-fellow, comrade in drink.
    In the morning of life I knew aspiration and saw
    Then 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
    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
    And loathe the smell of whiskey and onions.
    And the rhythm of Wordsworth's "Ode" runs in your
    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 thought 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 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
    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 mixer 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
    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 streets through rows of nods and smiles,
    And coughs 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!


Excerpted from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. Copyright © 1996 Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Edgar Lee Masters was born in 1868 in Garnett, Kansas, and was raised in several small towns in Illinois. He long harbored literary ambitions but was trained as a lawyer, and practiced for several years in Chicago with Clarence Darrow. Using a variety of pseudonyms to avoid possible damage to his law practice, Masters began to publish poetry in magazines. By 1915 he had published four books of poetry, seven plays, and a collection of essays, but none of them had received much critical attention. Masters then began to experiment with poetic form, bringing to life the sort of people he had known in his Midwestern childhood. The result was Spoon River Anthology, which mixed classical and innovative forms to create a work that critics both praised and scorned for its forthrightness and originality. The book experienced great critical and popular success, and influenced a generation of writers. Although Masters published a sequel to the book and many more workshe never succeeded in producing another volume to match his masterpiece. He died in 1950.

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Spoon River Anthology (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This ¿edition¿ of Spoon River is a rip-off and a disappointment. I have had a copy of Spoon River on my bookshelf for over forty years, and recently wished to give a nicer copy of this important work to a friend. So I ordered this hardcover edition, at $27.95. At first glance I was disappointed. For a hardcover, it was of low quality, cheap paper, and a cheap and very plain font. Then I discovered that it is marked ¿Copyright 1986 by Buccaneer Book, Inc.¿. There is no reference to the original publication date of 1915, no introduction, and the Epilogue, contained in all paperback editions that I have seen, was missing entirely. Worst of all, THIRTY (30) of the original ¿voices¿ have simply been deleted. This edition by Buccaneer Books is an unacceptable insult to a great work of American literature, and I am surprised that Barnes & Noble have allowed such low quality merchandise to be in their inventory. I will be returning this ¿book¿ immediately. Brian Young
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manircu33 More than 1 year ago
super good :)
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Im Reading and Doing Projects and activities on this book in english class and athough im not a big reAder this is a really great book!
Trodar More than 1 year ago
Along with WINESBURG, OHIO, SPA needs to be re-visited in the sense that it is time to reevaluate the American dream by looking back into small town life as it was presented at the turn of the 20th century. It's not a pretty picture anymore. SPA takes you into familiar problems of today. Somewhere the American Dream seems to be more of a nightmare.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had not read Spoon River Anthology since I was in high school but its poems have stayed with me all these years. When I found the hardcover I knew this was a book I had to own. After all these years it is as relevant and brilliant as I remembered.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book to discuss in my English Class. The kids love it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This can be a difficult read but well worth it. I have owned it since I was in high school and repeatedly go back to it like an old friend.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This clever book of poems is really handy for monologues. Some casting directors think that you're quite clever to use something that isn't the typical monologue. The poems are filled with emotion and character, and truly are good pieces.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. My brother had to read this book for high school and he gave all his old books to me.. I am not a big fan of poetry which is why this book surprised me so!