Spoon River Anthology
An American poetry classic, in which former citizens of a mythical midwestern town speak touchingly from the grave of the thwarted hopes and dreams of their lives.
The curriculet is being added to your library
As the opening lines suggest, this book of poetry is entirely in the form of epitaphs of the people who are buried in this small town cemetery. An epitaph is the phrase or saying written on a person's grave stone. Below is a picture of Masters' own grave with his epitaph. (This annotation contains an image)
What was Hod's motivation for robbing a traveler?
Many of the speakers, such as Fletcher, have a bitter or regretful tone. Watch the video below to learn more about tone. (This annotation contains a video)
Cassius thinks of life as
Edgar Lee Masters was a poet, playwright, and biographer. When the Spoon River Anthology was published, he was hailed as the greatest American poet since Walt Whitman. Masters wanted to explore and describe small town life, but many people from the small towns in Illinois in which Masters grew up were furious that he used their lives in his work. (This annotation contains an image)
Masters wants to show the reader that death is a great equalizer. How does Chase's example accomplish this?
The Judge is lamenting that he lays forgotten when Chase's nearby grave is much more dignified, even though he was the town drunk.
What is Benjamin buried with?
The phrase "The eternal silence of you spoke instead" is an example of a metaphor. Watch the video below on metaphors and look for more examples of figurative language as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
TRAINOR, THE DRUGGIST
What does Trainor compare marriage to?
Benjamin speaks of murdering women. Masters wants to show the readers that small town life is not as idyllic as it seems!
What does "Indignation" want the reader to know about the contrast between his background and his appearance?
These poems are part of a series. Minerva (the self-proclaimed "village poetess") was raped by "Butch" and when Dr. Meyers tried to help her by giving her an abortion, she died, and Dr. Meyers was disgraced. Why might this story about the small town surprise the reader?
What does Knowlt regret?
Hare's poem tells of the beautiful side of small town life and lovely scenery that we would expect to read about. (This annotation contains an image)
ANDY THE NIGHT-WATCH
Andy talks about how he was the town's night watchman and now another watchman has taken his place, just as he had done. What does Andy represent?
Despite all of the speakers being dead, there is little mention of the afterlife in these poems.
What happens to Flossie when she leaves Spoon River for the big city? Cite evidence from the text in your answer.
Masters' description of the wheel as 'remorseless' is an example of personification. Watch the short video below to learn more about personification and look for examples as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Zenas mean by "then I slept the sleep without dreams"?
THE TOWN MARSHAL
A prohibitionist is someone who was in favor of banning alcohol under the Volstead Act in the early twentieth century.
In this poem, which of the following answers explains the meaning of the wolf metaphor?
The image below is a painting depicting the Battle of Fort Sumter during the Civil War. Jacob is mourning the death of his son who was killed in the battle. (This annotation contains an image)
MARGARET FULLER SLACK
How is Margaret's story similar to many of the others in the anthology?
DR. SIEGRFIED ISEMAN
Dr. Iseman's story shares the same theme of personal disappointment that many of the others do.
Even though Lois is ________, she does not let it hold her back from achieving a fulfilling life.
Repetition in poetry is often used to place emphasis on something. In this case, Masters wanted to highlight the feelings of remorse that Willard had about his infidelity.
What is Aner's main point?
This isn't the first time that Masters has made mention of death as the great equalizer among men. Look for more evidence of this theme as you read.
Does Cooney think that his hard work was worth the sacrifices he made? Why or why not?
Fiddler lived his life the exact opposite how Cooney lived his-- with fun at the center instead of work, and Fiddler has no regrets.
What does Herbert find sorrowful?
HON. HENRY BENNETT
While many of the speakers of these poems talk about their disappointments, there are many who take it a step further and blame their spouses for their deaths.
GRIFFY THE COOPER
What does Griffy use tubs as a metaphor for?
ROBERT SOUTHEY BURKE
Robert is yet another character who blames his misfortune in life on giving his love to the wrong person.
Mrs. Williams asks the readers a very intriguing question: do you think that Spoon River would be better if people were not married to each other for life (remember, this anthology was written before divorce was commonplace). Given the bitterness that some of the deceased have for their mates, what do you think?
The highlighted lines contain yet another mention of death being a unifier. It is also one of the few glimpses that Masters gives into the afterlife.
What did Nancy do?
Around the same time that Nancy set her house on fire, her brother Barry murdered his pregnant wife with a hatchet.
WENDELL P. BLOYD
Why was Wendell jailed?
Franklin compares the life of man to the life of a chicken, destined for the butcher's block.
Sonia says that the residents of Spoon River thought that she and Patrick were married. How do you think the town would have reacted to find out that they were not?
PETIT, THE POET
"Tick, tick, tick" is an example of onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is when a word's sound mimics it's meaning. Another example would be to say "the rain went drip drop."
Did seeing the poem being performed make you react to it differently, or more strongly, than when you read it on your own? If so, why do you think that is?
Watch the video below of an actress reading Pauline's poem. Watch carefully, as the next question will ask you to consider what you have seen and heard. (This annotation contains a video)
MRS. CHARLES BLISS
In this poem, sunlight could best be described as a metaphor for
REV. LEMUEL WILEY
The Reverend thinks that his greatest act on earth was to save the Blisses from divorce, but you just read a different point of view in Mrs. Bliss' story. What harm did keeping their marriage together do to their whole family?
REV. ABNER PEET
What does Rev. Peet regret?
This poem is thought to be an autobiographical account of Masters' own father.
What was Jonas' great disappointment in life?
Confucius was an ancient Chinese philosopher whose ideas spawned Confucianism. Confucius' teachings emphasized morality, justice, and sincerity. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following best describes the metaphorical representation of the phrase "The liquid thought of your eyes"?
Daniel is echoing the familiar theme of regret seen in many of these poems.
Thomas thinks it's best to seek ________ treasures.
PENNIWIT, THE ARTIST
Patronage is the financial support given to someone for their artistic work, in this case photography.
Describe Robert's character while citing evidence form the text. Do you think that he learned the error of his ways?
As we just learned, Hamilton is wrong about his parentage. His real mother was Elsa from the previous poem, who was raped by his father.
Why couldn't Amos divorce his wife?
Ezra thinks that we have the power to find the divine inside of ourselves.
JOHN HANCOCK OTIS
John thinks that it's safer to trust someone who is ______________.
Unlike many of the inhabitants of Spoon River's cemetery who find fault with the other inhabitants, John holds on to a idyllic view of humanity.
What is the paradox in Alexander's poem? What are your opinions on his thoughts?
Widow McFarlane warns that hate can creep into your life unexpectedly and end it. She is wiser than many of the inhabitants of Spoon River who revel in their hate of one another even after their deaths.
Why does Eugene call himself "Rhode's slave"?
W. LLOYD GARRISON STANDARD
"The pyramid of my life was naught but a dune" is a metaphor for how disappointing Lloyd's life turned out to be. Here, the word "nought" means 'nothing.'
Ralph Rhodes, son of the hated banker you have been reading about, spends his days ___________ before dying disappointed.
Rosie's story exposes how corruption and money can hush up murders that occur in the small town.
Contrast Roscoe's views on his marriage on the previous page with that of his wife's on this page. Does this surprise you?
Mrs. Kessler did laundry for the town and felt like she was privy to everyone's secrets.
"I stood like a stone" is an example of
A dowry is property or money given to the groom by the bride's family upon marriage. Lillian's husband felt cheated because his wife's family presented itself as wealthier than it was.
Batterton laments that while he is in a coffin he thinks his wife is living a life of
As mentioned, many of these poems have autobiographical elements in them. In addition to being a writer, Masters was also a lawyer. He continued to practice law even after his writing career proved successful. (This annotation contains an image)
What does Masters have to tell the reader about how idyllic small town life is in these last two poems?
Ovid was a Latin poet best known for his mythological narratives. Learn more about him by visiting this site. Why did Ovid anger Emperor Augustus? (This annotation contains a link)
Hiram feels that he left all of his supporters
Jeduthan wonders who will die the same week as him, since he has observed that deaths go in pairs in Spoon River.
What two things are most important to Oaks?
Voltaire blames Spoon River for all of his problems.
What does Ida's vision mean? How does it come true?
Seth raises questions of morality and wishes that Spoon River's inhabitants would have been capable of looking past their definitions of good and evil. This is a common theme in the anthology.
SCHRŒDER THE FISHERMAN
Schroeder compares the men fighting over farmland to
Richard was the citizen who would carve the epitaphs on peoples' tombstones and saw how false they were. These poems are people's real epitaphs, in which they tell the truth about their lives.
"And the hills sleep" is an example of
People leaving Spoon River and returning defeated after finding failure in the outside world is a common theme in many of these poems.
How does Shack's poem show the reader that racism is prevalent in Spoon River?
We have read about conflict in many of these poems, both external conflicts between residents or spouses and internal conflict when people express their regrets. Learn how authors use conflict by watching this video. (This annotation contains a video)
HENRY C. CALHOUN
Henry ______________ people who live their lives to seek revenge.
DIPPOLD THE OPTICIAN
Most of the poems in the anthology are realistic, but this one serves as a refreshing break from realism.
What does Archibald think that Spoon River was missing?
These three poems tell of the affair that Elmer Karr had with Mrs. Merrit, after which Elmer murdered her husband. It is interesting to note is that Elmer, who committed the murder against Mrs. Merritt's wishes, is sent away for less than half of the time that Mrs. Merritt is, and the people of the town take him in again, while she dies alone. This is an example of the misplaced sense of morality that was mentioned in earlier poems.
Did you pick up anything upon seeing the actress' performance of this poem that you missed in your reading of it? Did Elizabeth's sorrow affect you more deeply after watching the video?
Watch the following video of an actress reading Elizabeth's poem and then answer the question on the next page. (This annotation contains a video)
Charles' poem to his widow is full of beautiful imagery. Watch the video below to learn more about imagery and look for more examples as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
While the other poems are people telling their own stories, this one differs in that it is someone else telling about their admiration for Father Malloy. Consider how the point of view might change the tone or content of the poem.
Who does Calvin think is to blame for the bitterness of Spoon River's inhabitants?
Harlan says that he hid himself away from a true friend due to shame.
Henry writes that he
This section of the anthology are epitaphs for soldiers. Most of the focus is on the hardships of war.
What kind of experience did Godwin have in the army? Cite evidence from the text in your answer.
These lines are an allusion to Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. (This annotation contains an image)
What does Mabel claim she perished from?
"And that stretch of years like a prairie in Illinois" is a simile for the passage of time. Most of the imagery in this poem has to do with the passage of time.
Who does Hannah ask to help discharge her son form the army?
Davis compares the lives of men to the lives of bees. This isn't the first time we have seen comparisons between people and animals in the anthology. Masters wants to remind us that we are part of the animal kingdom.
What experience is Jennie describing here? What clues in the poem helped you determine your answer?
Wallace compares his time spent in Switzerland to the afterlife. He is at peace with his soul being different than it was on earth.
PLYMOUTH ROCK JOE
What does Plymouth compare men to?
The "rejoicing leaves lovingly patting each other with sweet aeolian whispers" is another example of personification.
Unlike many of the other poems, William's tone is
J. MILTON MILES
There have been many mentions in the anthology about not being able to tell what is true from what is false.
How does Willie's poem echo the theme in the book about people being no different from animals? Use examples from the text in your answer.
THE VILLAGE ATHEIST
An atheist is someone who does not believe in God. This set of poems centers around religion.
What did Alfonzo learn through his study of astronomy?
Like many of the residents of Spoon River's cemetery, James wants the reader to know of his loneliness.
LE ROY GOLDMAN
"To the court where you are a stranger" is a metaphor for
As we near the end of the anthology, notice how many of the final poems have death as their theme.
What does Jeremy think the greatest sin and the greatest joy are? Do you agree or disagree with him?
Judson's poem is about how all of these Spoon River poems, and the prayers within them, are rising up to heaven. Why might Masters have placed this poem toward the end?
What is Isaiah describing when he says "The soul of the river had entered my soul, and the gathered power of my soul was moving so swiftly it seemed to be at rest..."?
Many literary critics and teachers assume Webster Ford's poem to be autobiographical of Masters' life.
The final poem The Spooniad is written as
This refers to a crude painting of Shakespeare that is in Spoon River's theatre.
How does The Spooniad connect the lives of the characters whose epitaphs you have been reading?
Many ancient Greek poems begin with the invoking of the Muse to help the poet tell the story.
This Epilogue was added by Masters in a later edition.
It sounds like the deceased are playing some version of
Beelzebub is another name for the Devil. Yogarindra is an Indian goddess. (This annotation contains an image)
How is this different than other lines of poetry from this anthology?
Loki, seen here with his children, is a shape-shifting trickster from Norse mythology. (This annotation contains an image)
What is happening here in this Epilogue? How is the Epilogue different from the rest of the book?
In Christian tradition, Judgment Day refers to the last day of the world when all of the souls are judged by their moral worth. (This annotation contains an image)
"Thus aspiration fallen fills the earth with jungle growths of bitterness and pain" is an example of
The imagery in the last section is about new beginnings, as symbolized by the coming of spring. Look for examples of this description as you read.