Aug. 23, 2005
Poem: "Lucinda Matlock" by Edgar Lee Masters. Reprinted with permission.
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.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the dancer, choreographer, and film director Gene Kelly, born in Pittsburgh (1912). He made his film debut with Judy Garland in 1942 in For Me and My Gal. He was best known perhaps for his dance in the mud puddle in Singin' in the Rain in 1952.
It was on this day in 2000 that 51 million Americans sat down in front of their TV sets to watch the final two-hour episode of a game show called Survivor, a show which had taken 16 very different people, put them on a deserted island where they had to live in the rough, compete as teams for prizes, and each week vote one person off the island. The last person remaining would get one million dollars.
Each one-hour episode was edited down from more than 100 hours of video. The audience was fascinated by all of the back-stabbing that went on, the alliances, the double-crosses and the betrayals and watched in horror as the most treacherous and heartless contestant won the prize.
And today is the birthday of the poet Edgar Lee Masters, born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). He was one of the first writers to portray the American small town as a place of terrible secrets, lies, and scandals.
Masters grew up in two towns in the Illinois Corn Belt, Lewistown and Petersburg, along the Spoon River. He became a lawyer and moved to Chicago. He was a partner with Clarence Darrow. He met Carl Sandburg, who was writing for a socialist newspaper, and Masters got involved in the Chicago literary scene. He published a series of books of poems and several plays.
One day, Edgar Lee Masters' mother came to visit, and he spent a day with her talking about all the characters he remembered from the towns where he grew up. His mother told him all the gossip that she knew about those people. He put her on the train and went back home and started writing Spoon River Anthology.
He had recently read a book of Greek poems written in the form of fictional epitaphs about famous dead men, and so he got the idea for a book of poems written in the voices of the dead in a graveyard.
He published Spoon River Anthology in 1915 under a pseudonym. He was worried it would have an effect on his law practice, and he was right to worry. The book was considered very scandalous at the time, but it became a best-seller. It went through 70 printings, and it allowed Masters to retire from his law practice. The people in the towns that he had grown up in were angry at him for decades. It took more than 50 years before the town where he went to high school was able to put Spoon River Anthology in the town library.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®