poem index

poet

Edgar Lee Masters

1868-1950 , Garnett , KS , United States
Edgar Lee Masters

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

 

by this poet

poem
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
poem
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
poem
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