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Spoon River Anthology - Edgar Lee Masters (1915)

Edgar Lee Masters hit on a good idea when he thought of "Spoon River Anthology" (pub 1915). It's a collection of 214 epitaphs supposedly on the tombstones in the Protestant Cemetery of a small american town.  But they're not epitaphs in the Hic Jacet mode, they're more free-verse autobiograpical monologues spoken in the voices of the dead who reflect on their lives.  There's a great variety of characters ranging from the town judge to the most lowly individuals, and, by the end, the reader's left with a wonderful picture of the sadness, triteness, hypocrisy, struggle and sometime loving happiness of small town life.  It's a real american literary curiosity.  This is a characteristic example.

        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.


Another epitaph from 'Spoon River Anthology'. There are a lot of cross references between the epitaphs, characters settling old scores after death.

      A.D. Blood

      If you in the village think my work was a good one,
      Who closed the saloons and stopped all playing at cards,
      And haled old Daisy Fraser before Judge 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?

Spoon River Anthology

Mike, Spoon River is one of my all-time favourites.  The poems have been dramatised on stage and in film and are quite powerful in the hands (mouths) of skilled actors.  

But I love the first pages of the book:
                    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 jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife--
All, all, are 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 lone,
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-awy London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

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