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About this poet

Edgar Lee Masters was born in Garnett, Kansas, on August 23, 1868, but soon after his birth his family moved to Lewistown, Illinois, the town near Springfield where Masters grew up. His youth was marred by his father's financial struggles with a faltering law practice and reluctance to support his son's literary interests. Masters attended Knox College for a year but was then forced by the family's finances to withdraw and continue his studies privately. He was admitted to the bar in 1891, and he moved to Chicago in 1892, where he found a job collecting bills for the Edison Company. He gradually built a successful law practice, and for eight years he was the partner of Clarence Darrow. In 1898 he published his first collection, A Book of Verses, and married Helen Jenkins. His first books, some of which were published under pseudonyms, showed strong influences from the English Romantic poets and Edgar Allan Poe.

During this time Masters considered writing a novel about the relationships of people in a small Illinois town. This idea was transformed through a chance acquaintance. Masters had been submitting poems to Marion Reedy, the editor of Reedy's Mirror in St. Louis. While Reedy didn't publish these poems, he kept up the correspondence and gave Masters a copy of J. W. Mackail's Selected Epigrams from the Greek Anthology. After reading these, Masters felt the challenge to adopt the idea for his novel into this form, combining free verse, epitaph, realism, and cynicism to write Spoon River Anthology, a collection of monologues from the dead in an Illinois graveyard. The Spoon River of the title is the name of an actual river in Illinois, but the town combines Lewistown, where Masters grew up, and Petersburg, where his grandparents lived. These poems were serialized in Reedy's Mirror from 1914-15, and then discovered by Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetry, who helped Masters issue a complete edition in 1915. Spoon River Anthology was wildly successful, going through several editions rapidly and becoming one of the most popular books of poetry in the history of American literature. His success and friendship with Monroe also brought him into the Chicago Group and contact with such poets as Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay.

Masters was never to equal the success of Spoon River Anthology. He published thirty-nine more books, including novels, plays, collections of poetry, and biographies of Lindsay, Mark Twain, Whitman, and Lincoln. In 1917, Masters left his family; he and his wife would divorce in 1923. In 1920 Masters gave up his law firm and moved from Chicago to New York City, where he retired to the Chelsea Hotel to write. In 1926 he married Ellen Coyne, thirty years his junior. In his later years, Masters received several awards based on his earlier successes, including a Poetry Society of America Award, the Shelley Memorial Award, a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Academy Fellowship in 1946. He died March 5, 1950, in a convalescent home in Philadelphia and was buried in Petersburg, Illinois.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

A Book of Verses (1898)
Along the Illinois (1942)
Domesday Book (1920)
Godbey: A Dramatic Poems (1931)
Illinois Poems (1941)
Invisible Landscapes (1935)
Jack Kelso: A Dramatic Poem (1928)
Lee: A Dramatic Poem (1925)
Lichee Nuts (1930)
More People (1939)
Poems of People (1936)
Richmond: A Dramatic Poem (1934)
Selected Poems (1925)
Songs and Satires (1916)
Songs and Sonnets (1910)
Songs and Sonnets: Second Series (1912)
Spoon River Anthology (1915)
Starved Rock (1919)
The Enduring River: Edgar Lee Masters's Uncollected Spoon River Poems (1991)
The Fate of the Jury: An Epilogue to Domesday Book (1929)
The Golden Fleece of California (1936)
The Great Valley (1916)
The Harmony of Deeper Music: Posthumous Poems of Edgar Lee Masters (1976)
The New Spoon River (1924)
The Open Sea (1921)
The Serpent in the Wilderness (1933)
Toward the Gulf (1918)

Auto/Biography

Across Spoon River: An Autobiography (1936)
Levy Mayer and the New Industrial Era (1927)
Lincoln: The Man (1931)
Mark Twain: A Portrait (1938)
Vachel Lindsay: A Poet in America (1935)
Whitman (1937)

Essays

The Blood of the Prophets (1905)
The New Star Chamber and Othe Essays (1904)

Fiction

Children of the Market Place (1922)
Kit O'Brien (1927)
Mirage (1924)
Mitch Miller (1920)
Skeeters Kirby (1923)
The Nuptial Flight (1923)
The Sangamon (1942)
The Tide of Time (1937)

Non-Fiction

Hymn to the Unknown God: New Age Ministry of Religious Research (1937)
The Tale of Chicago (1933)

Plays

Althea (1907)
Dramatic Duologues: Four Short Plays in Verse (1934)
Eileen (1910)
Gettysburg, Manila, Acoma: Three Plays (1930)
Maximilian: A Play in Five Acts (1902)
The Leaves of the Tree (1909)
The Locket (1910)
The Tread of Idleness (1911)
The Trifler (1908)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Lucinda Matlock

Edgar Lee Masters, 1868 - 1950
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,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed--
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you--
It takes life to love Life.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters

Born in Kansas in 1868, Edgar Lee Masters wrote several collections of verse, including the popular Spoon River Anthology in 1915.

by this poet

poem
Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
"With malice toward none, with charity for all."
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of
poem
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
poem
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

collected in

collection
“I trust your Garden was willing to die ...