Saturday, December 8, 2012

Edgar Lee Master's Dead Grandmother Talks Through Hat

I've been re-reading Edgar Lee Master's the Spoon River Anthology. Really, reading John Hallwas's introduction to his, 1992, annotated edition, and dipping into the poems, and the gossipy notes to each poem. Spoon River is a fiction, based on Lewiston and Petersburg, Illinois. I'm from the next watershed west of The Spoon.

In the Anthology, the poems are speeches of the dead in a small-town cemetery, and each gives an account of his or her life.

"Lucinda Matlock" is based on the poet's paternal grandmother, a long-lived pioneer wife and mother. The poem ends,

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.

Lucinda doesn't know what she's talking about. Spoon River is about the decay of the American vision. People are trapped in a system rigged by villains. Lucinda lived the vision, was born on the prairie, suffered of course, but did what was appropriate and meaningful. Her children had Lucinda's legacy snatched from them, but she can't see it -- not because she's dead, but because she's adapted to pioneer times. She thinks that things are the way she lived them. Her degenerate sons and daughters are ensnared by the Thomas Rhodeses, Editor Whedons, Mrs. Pantiers, and John M. Churches of the book. These people -- and Spoon River Anthology is a roman a clef -- robbed Lucinda's offspring, notably her grandson the author, not only of bread and land, but of the wherewithal to live meaningfully.

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