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Edgar Lee Master

Spoon River Anthology


Where are ElmerHermanBertTom and Charley

The weak of willthe strong of armthe clowthe

boozerthe fighter?

Allallare 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 —

Allall are sleepingsleepingsleeping on the hill.

Where are EllaKareMagLizzie and Edith

The tender heartthe simple soulthe loudthe proud

the happy one? —

Allallare sleeping on the hill.

One died in shamful child-birth

One of a thwarted love

One at the hands of a brute in a brothel

One of a broken pridein the search for heart’s desire

One after life in far-away London and Paris

Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kare and

Mag —

Allallare sleepingsleepingsleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily

And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton

And Major Walker who talked

With venerable men of the revolution? —

Allallare sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war

And daughters whom life had crushed

And their children fatherlesscrying —

Allallare sleepingsleepingsleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones

Who played with life all his ninety years

Braving the sleet with bared breast

Drinkingriotingthinking neither of wife nor kin

Nor goldnor lovenor 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.


Have you seen walking throught the village

A man with downcast eyes and haggard face?

That is my husband whoby secret cruelty

Never to be toldrobbed me of my youth and my beauty;

Till at lastwrinkled and with yellow teeth

And with broken pride and shameful humility

I sank into the grave.

But what think you graws at my husband’s heart?


Dove sono ElmerHermanBertTom e Charley

Il debole diil forte di braccioil clownl'ubriaconeil


Tuttituttidormono sulla collina.

Uno è morto per febbre

Uno fu bruciato in una miniera

Uno è stato ucciso in una rissa

Uno è morto in una prigione

Uno è caduto da un ponte affaticato da moglie e figli —

Tuttitutti dormonodornomodormono sulla collina.

Dove sono EllaKateMagLizzie ed Edith

Il cuore tenerol'anima semplicela rumorosa

l'orgogliosal’unica felice? _

Tuttetuttedormono sulla collina.

Una è morto tra i dolori del parto

Una di contrastato amore

Una per causa di un bruto in un bordello

Una di un orgoglio infrantoalla ricerca del desiderio

del cuore

Una dopo una vita nelle lontane Londra e Parigi

Le è stato portato via un po’ di spazio da Ella e Kate e

Mag —

Tuttetutte dormonodornomodormono sulla collina.

Dove sono Zio Isaac e Zia Emily

E il vecchio Towny Kincaid e Sevigne Houghton

E il sindaco Walker che ha parlato

Con uomini venerabili della rivoluzione? —

Tuttituttidormono sulla collina.

Hanno riportato i propri figli morti dalla guerra

E figlie che vita aveva schiacciato

E i loro bambini senza padrepiangenti —

Tuttitutti dormonodornomodormono sulla collina.

Dove è Old Fiddler Jones

Che ha giocato con vita tutti suoi novanta anni

Affrontare il nevischio con scoperta mammella

Bereinsorgerepensare né l'uno né l'altro di moglie nè


Nè oronè amorenè cielo?

Ecco! Lui farnetica di pesce fritto di tempo fa

Di corse di cavalli di tempo fa al Boschetto di Clary

Di quello che Abe Lincoln ha detto

Un tempo a Springfield.


Avete visto camminare attraverso il villaggio

Un uomo con occhi sconfortati e faccia sparuta?

Quello è mio marito checon crudeltà segreta e

Inauditami ha derubato della mia gioventù e della mia


Fino a chefinalmentegrinzoso e con denti gialli

E senza alcun orgoglio ed vergognosa

L’ho portato nella tomba.

Oraa cosa pensate assomigli il cuore di mio marito?

The face of what I wasthe face of what he made me!.These are driving him tothe place where I lie.

In deaththereforeI am avenged.


She took my strength by minutes

She took my life by hours

She drained me like a fevered moon

Tha saps the spinning world.

The days went by like shadows

The minutes wheeled like stars

She took the pity from my hearth

And made in 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 lipsand sagged the cheecks

And drooped the eyes with sorrow.

My soul had entered in the day

Fighting like seven devils.

It was not mineit was not hers;

She held itbut its struggles

Modeled a face she hated

And a face I feared to see.

I beat the windowsshook the bolts.

I hid me in a corner —

And then she died and haunted me

And haunted me for life


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

Prestigeplaceor power in the world.

But there’s work to do and thing to conquer —

Ohyes! The wires that screen the bait.

At last you get in — but you hear a step:

The ogreLifecomes 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 laughand mock and curse you

Running up and down in the trap

Until your misery bores him.


My life’s blossom micht 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 onesye are fools indeed

Who do not know the ways of the wind

La faccia di quello che erola faccia di quello che mi ha


Questi lo guidano al luogo dove giaccio.

In morte perciòsono vendicata.



SEREPTA MASON.And the unseenforces

That govern the processes of life.


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 Protestant bought this lot

And burried my body here

Close tho the grave of the banker Nicholas

And his wife Priscilla.

Take noteye prudent and pious souls

Of the cross-currents in life

Which bring honor to the deadwho lived in shame.


How does it happentell me

That I who was most erudite of lawyers

Who knew Blackstone and Coke

Almost by heartwho made the greatest speech

The ever heardand wrote

A brief tha won the praise of Justice Breese —

How does it happentell me

That I lie here unmarkedforgotten

While Chase Henrythe town drunkhard

Has a marble blocktopped by an urn

Wherein Naturein a mood ironical

Has sown a flowering weed?


WellEmily Sparksyour prayers were not wasted

Your love was not all in vain.

I owe whatever I was in life

To your love that saw me still as good.

Dear Emily Sparkslet 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 throught every peril known

Of wine and women and joy of life.

One nightin 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 beacuse you no more could love me

Not pray for menor write me letters

The eternal silence of you spoke instead.

And black-eyed cocotte took the tears for hers

As well at the deceiving kisses I gave her.

Somehowfrom that hourI had a new vision —

Dear Emily Sparks!


Where is my boymy boy —

In what far part of the world?

The boy I loved best of all in the school? —

Ithe teacherthe old maidthe virgin hearth




EMILY SPARKS.Who made themall my children

Did I know my boy aright

Thinking of him as spirit aflame

Activeever aspiring?

Ohboyboyfor whom I prayed and prayed

In many a watchful hour at nicht

Do you remember the letter I wrote you

Of the beautiful love of Christ?

And whether you ever took it or not

My boywherever you are

Work for your soul’s sake

that all the clay of youall of the dross of you

May field to the fire of you

Till the fire is nothing but light!...

Nothing but light!


No other manunless it as Doc Hill

Did more for people in this town than I.

And all the weakthe haltthe improvident

And those who could not pay flocked to me.

I was good-heartedeasy Doctor Meyers.

I was healthyhappyin confrtable fortune

Blessed with a congenial matemy children raised

All weddeddoing well in the world.

And then one nightMinervathe potess

Came to me in her troublecrying.

I tried to help her out — she died —

The indicted methe newspapeers 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 onlytried to help her.

Poor soul so sunk in sin he could not see

That even trying to help heras he called it

He had broken the law human and divine.

Passers byan ancient admonition to you:

If your ways would be ways of pleasantness

And all your pathways peace

Love God and keep his commandaments.


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 rickery ladder to do it

Carrying buckets full of the stuff.

One morningas I stood there pouring

The air grew still and seemed to heave

And I shot up as the tank exploded

And down I came whith 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 mineand so



«BUTCH» WELDY.OldRhodes’ son didn’t have to pay me.

And I sat on the witness stand as blind

As Jack the Fiddlersaying over and over

«I didn’t know him at all».


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 works«Pro Patria».

What do they meananyway?


Knowlt Hoheimer ran away to the war

The day before Curl Trenary

Swore out a warrant through Justice Arnett

For sealing 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 I went to the war —

Back of every soldier is a woman.


Do the boys and girls still go to Siever’s

For ciderafter schoolin late September?

Or gather hazel nuts among the tickets

On Aaron Herfield’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.

Nowthe 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 mehow 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 sctreets

Here and there by day and night

trough all hours of the night caring for the poor who

were sick.

Do you know why?

My wife hated memy son went to the dogs.

And I turned to the people and poured out my love to


Sweet it was to see the crowd about the lawns on the

day of my funeral

And hear then murmur teir love and sorrow.




DOC HILL.But ohdear Godmy 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

Hilding herselfand her grief!


Mauriceweep notI am not here under this pine tree.

The balmy air for spring whispers through the sweet


The stars sparklethe whippoorwill calls

But thou grievestwhile my soul lies rapturous

In the blest Nirvana of eternal light!

Go to the good hearth that is my husband

Who broods upon what he calls our guilty love: —

Tell him that my love for youno less than my love for


Wrought out my destiny — that through the flesh

I won spiritand through spiritpeace.

There is no marriage in heaven

But there is love.


As a boyTheodoreyou sat for long hours

One the shore of the turbid Spoon

With deep-set eye starting at the door of the crawfish’s


Waiting for him to appearpushing ahead

First his aving antennaelike staws of hay

as soon his bodycolored like soap-stone

Gemmed with eyes of jet.

And you wondered in a trance of thought

What he knewwhat he desiredand why he lived at all.

But later your vision watched for men and women

Hiding in burrows of late amid great cities

Looking for the souls of them to come out

So that you could see

How they livedand for what

And why they kept crawling so busily

Along the sandy way where water fails

As the summer wanes.


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 menot fearing me

And I had no more exciting adventures

Wherein I was all but shot for a heartless devil

But only drabbly affairswarmed-over affairs

Of other ways and other men.

And time went on until I lived at Mayer’s restaurant

Partaking of short-ordersa grayuntidy

Toothlessdiscardedrural Don Juan...

There is might shade here who sings

Of one named Beatrice;

And I see new that the force that made him great



LUCIUS ATHERTON.Dove me tothe dregs of life.


The earth keeps some vibration going

There in your hearthand that is you.

And if the people find you can fiddle

Whyfiddle you mustfor all your life.

What do you seea harvest of clover?

Or a meadow to wolk throught 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 offto Toor-a-Loor.

How could I till my forty acres

Not to speak of getting more

With a medley of hornsbassons and piccolos

Stirred in my brain by cross 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 I never started to plow in my life

Tha 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 laughand a thousand memories

And not a single refret.


Herbet broke our engagement of eight years

When Annabelle returned to the village

From the Seminaryah me!

If I had hlet my love for him alone

It might hae grow into a beautiful sorrow —

Who knows? — filling my life with healing fragrance.

But I tortured itI soisoned it

I blinded its eyesand it became hatred —

Deadly ivy instead of clemantis.

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 sorrowLouiseand hatred of me

Sprang from your delusion that it was wantonnes

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 youand would not.

But you were my misery. If you had been

My happness 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.




Take notepassers-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 destroyand not preservemy memory.

I in life was the Circuit Judgea marker of notches

Deciding cases on the points the lawyers scored

Not on the right of the matter.

O wind and rainleave my head-stone alone!

For worse than anger of the wronged

The curses of the poor

Was to lie speechlessyet with visione clear

Seeing that even Hod Puttthe 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 fullmade me fiddle and fiddle

To the song of susie Skinnerwhile whipping the horses

Till they ran away.

Blind as I wasI tried to get out

As the carriage fell in the ditch

And was caught in the wheels and killed.

There’s blind man here with a brow

As big and white as a cloud.

And all we fiddlersfrom higest to lowest

Writers of music and tellers of stories

Sit at his feet

And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.


Have any of youpassers-by

Had an old rooth that was an unceasing discomfort?

Or a pain in the side that never quire left you?

Or a malignant growth that grew with time?

So that even in profoundest slumber

There was shadowy consciusness or the phantom of


Of the tooththe sidethe growth?

Even so twarted loveor defeated ambition

Or a blunder in life wich mixed your life

Hopelessly to the end

Will like a toothor a pain in the side

Float through your dreams in the final sleep

Till perfect freedom from the earth.sphere

Comes to you as one who wakes

Healed and glad in the morning!




Richhonored by my fellow citizens

The father of many childrenborn of a noble mother

Alla raised there

In the great mansion-houseat the edge of town

Note the cedar tree on the Iwan!

I sent all the boys to Ann Arborall the girls to


To while my life went ongetting more riches and

honors —

Resting under my cedar three at evening.

The year went on.

I sent the girls in Europe:

I dowered them when married.

I gave the boys money to start in business.

They were strong childrenpromising as apples

Before the bitten places show.

But John field 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 goneor broken-winged or devoured by life —

I sat under my cedar tree.

My matethe mother of themwas taken.

I sat under my cedar tree.

Till ninety years were tolled.

Oh maternal Earthwhich rocks the fallen leaf to sleep!


Dear Jane! Dear winsome Jane!

How you stolein the room (where I law so ill)

In your nurse’s cap and linen cuffs

And took my hand and said with a smile:

«You are not so ill — you’ll soon be well».

And how the liquid throught of your eyes

Sank in my eyes like dew that slips

Into the heart of a flower.

Dear Jane! The whole McNeely fortune

Could not have bought you care of me

By day and nightand night and day;

Not paid for you smilenot the warmth of your soul

In your little hands laid on my brow.

Janetill the flame of life went out

In the dark above the disk of night

I longed and hoped to be well again

To pillow my head on your little breasts

And hold you fast in a claps of love —

Did my father provide for you when he died

Janedear Jane?



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: «You have a friend



MARY MCNEELY.Butmy sorrow has no friend»

Hence my long years of solitude at the home of my


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.

Ohye souls who have made life

Fragrant and white as tuberoses

From earth’s dark soil

Eternal peace!


Not characternot fortitudenot patience

Were minethe which the village thought I had

In bearing with my wifewhile preaching on

Doing the work God chose for me.

I loathed her as a termagantas a wanton

I knew of her adulteriesevery one.

But even soif 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 lecturingran for the legislature

Canvassed for bookswith just the thousht in mind:

If I make money thusI 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.


Ye aspiring oneslisten to the story of the unknown

Who lies her 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 feethis 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 frindship

Of one whom life wounded and caged.


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





We stand about this place — wethe memories;

And shade our eyes because we dread to read:

«June 17 th 1884aged 21 years and 3 days».

And all things are changed.

And we — wethe memoriesstand here for ourselves


For no eye marks usor would know why we are here.

Your husband is deadyou sister lives far away

Your father is bent with age:

He has forgotten youhe scrcely leaves the house

Any more.

No one remembers you exquisite face

Your lyric voice!

How you sangeven on the morning you were stricken

With piercing seetnesswith thrilling sorrow

Before the advent of the child which died with you.

It is all fogottensave by usthe memories

Who are forgottenby the world.

All is changedsave the river and the hill —

Even they are changed.

Only the burning sun and the quiet stars are the same.

And we — wethe memoriesstand here in awe

Our eyes closed with the weariness of tears —

In immesurable weariness!


You may thinkpasser-bythat Fate

Is a pit-fall outside of yourself

Around which you may walk by the use of foresight

And wisdom

Thus you believeviewing the lives of ohter men

As one who in God-like fashion bends over an anthill

Seeing how teir difficulties could be avoided.

But pass on into life:

In time you shall see Fate approach you

In the shape of your own image in the mirror;

Or you shall sit alone by your own hearth

And suddendly the shair by you shall hold a guest

And you shall know that guest

And read the authentic message of his eyes.


Your red blossoms amid green leaves

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 liveand soto live

I learned the trade of making watches

And kept the jewelry store in the square


Not of businessbut of the engine

I studied the calculus to build.

And all Spoon River watched and waited

To see it workbut it never worked.

And few kind souls believed my genius

Was somehow hampered by the store.

It wasn’t true. The truth was this:



MABEL OSBORNE.I didn’thave the brains.

Are droopingbeautiful geranium!

But you do not ask for water.

You cannot speak! You do not need to speak —

Everyone knows that you are dying of thirst

Yet they do not bring water!

They pass onsaying:

«The geranium wants water».

And Iwho had happiness to share

And longed to share your happiness;

I who loved youSpoon River

And craved you love

Whithered before your eyesm Spoon River —


Voiceless from chasteness of soul to ask you for love

You who knew and saw me perish before you

Like this geranium which someone has planted over me

And left to die.


I went to the dances at Chandlerville

And played snap-out at Winchester.

One time we changed partners

Driving home in the moonlight of middle June

And then I found Davis.

We were married and lived together for seventy years

Enjoyingworkingraising the twelve children

Eight of whom we lost

Ere I had reached the age of sixty.

I spunI woveI kept the houseI mursed the sick

I made the gardenand for holiday

Tambled over the fields where sang the larks

And by Spoon Rivers gathering many a shell

And many a flower and medicinal weed —

Shouting to the wooded hillssinging to the green


At ninety-six I had lived enoughthat is all

And passed to a sweet repose.

What is this I heat of sorrow and weariness

Angerdiscontent and drooping hopes?

Degenerate sons and daughters

Life is too strong for you —

It takes life to love Life.


You observe the carven hand

With the index finger pinting heavenward.

That is the directionno doubt.

But how shall one follow it?

It is well to abstain from murder and lust

To forgeivedo good to othersworship God

Without graven images.

But these are external means after all

By which you chiefly do good to yourself.

The inner kernel is freedom

It is lightpurity —

I can no more

Find the goal or lose itaccording to your visione.



I was Willie Metcalf.

They used to call me «Doctor Meyers»

Becausethey saidI looked like him.

And he was my fatheraccording to Jack McGuire.

I lived in the livery stable

Sleeping on the floor

Side by side with Roger Baughman’s bulldog

Or sometimes in a stall.

I could crawl between the legs of the wildest horses

Without getting kicked — we knew each other.

On spring days I tramped through the country

To get the feelingwhich I sometimes lost

That I was not a separate thing from the earth.

I used to lose myselfas if in sleep

by lying with eyes half-open in the woods.

Sometimes I talked ith animals — even toads and snakes

Anything that had an eye to look into

Once I saw a stone in the sunshine

Trying to turn into jelly.

In april days in this cemetery

The dead people gathered alla about me

and grew stilllike a congregation in silent prayer.

I never knew whether I was a part of the earth

With flowers growing in meor wheter I walked —

Now I Know.