Masters, E.L. 1868 - 1950 (82)

To put meaning in one's life may end in madness, But life without meaning is the torture Of restlessness and vague desire. It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.


Spoon river



MAURICE, weep not, I am not here under this pine tree. The balmy air of spring whispers through the sweet grass, The stars sparkle, the whippoorwill calls, But thou grievest, while my soul lies rapturous In the blest Nirvana of eternal light! Go to the good heart that is my husband, Who broods upon what he calls our guilty love:— Tell him that my love for you, no less than my love for him Wrought out my destiny—that through the flesh I won spirit, and through spirit, peace. There is no marriage in heaven, But there is love.

Edgar Lee Masters was an important American poet, biographer and author. He was born in Kansas in August 1868 and spent his childhood in Illinois. His father was a lawyer and politician and when Edgar tried to follow classical literature studies he stopped him and forced him into law practice. He passed successfully the exams and started working at his father law firm but soon they came into conflict and he moved to Chicago, where he became a partner at the law firm of Clarence Darrow. By that time he had already started publishing poems and stories in magazines and newspapers, in Chicago he joined the literary circles of the city and worked for the magazine “Poetry”. In 1898 he married the daughter of a fellow lawyer, they had three children. In 1911 he started his own law firm and in 1915 he became famous with the publication of the Spoon River Anthology. In this collection of 243 poems, the dead inhabitants of the fictional town of Spoon River, they describe their lives in a few lines each one. The anthology was characterized by many critics as one of the most original pieces of fictional literature ever written. His source of inspiration was the anthology of Selected Greek epigrams, by J.W. Mackail, a book of funeral poems written from 700 BC until 1000 AD.

After the great success of the Anthology of Spoon River he continued to write incessantly poetry, biographies, plays, novels. At the same time he had extramarital relations and family problems that led him to a divorce that became a public spectacle, with Chicago’s press criticized and denigrated him. Masters lost his clients with all that publicity and decided to move to New York, where he tried to continue the profession of lawyer but gradually devoted himself exclusively to literature. In 1924 he married the 30 years younger Ellen Kuna, who was appointed as a teacher of English literature and had to move to different schools in different areas. Masters in some cases followed her in places like North Carolina or Pennsylvania, and in other he stayed alone in New York. In 1935 she divorced him because of his extramarital relationships. In 1936 Masters wrote his autobiography and in 1943 his health deteriorated after catching pneumonia. He spent his last years in a nursing home in Melrose Park in Pennsylvania, where Ellen used to visit him after having reconciled with him. He died in 1950, having published until then, 12 plays, 21 books of poetry, 6 novels and 6 biographies, including those of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.