Updated date:

Edgar Lee Masters' "Rev. Lemuel Wiley"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Introduction and Text of "Rev. Lemuel Wiley"

From Edgar Lee Masters' American classic, Spoon River Anthology, "Rev. Lemuel Wiley" was one of the advisors of the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bliss. As Mrs. Bliss has recounted, Rev. Wiley counseled her not to divorce Mr. Bliss because of the children. Mr. Bliss received the same advice from Judge Somers. Rev. Wiley's epitaph must be experienced along with that of Mrs. Charles Bliss in order to see the vastly different views each has taken away from the reverend's counseling insight.

Rev. Lemuel Wiley

I preached four thousand sermons,
I conducted forty revivals,
And baptized many converts.
Yet no deed of mine
Shines brighter in the memory of the world,
And none is treasured more by me:
Look how I saved the Blisses from divorce,
And kept the children free from that disgrace,
To grow up into moral men and women,
Happy themselves, a credit to the village.

Reading of "Rev. Lemuel Wiley"

Commentary

Rev. Lemuel Wiley's account of himself is short and sweet: he had a long career of saving souls and saving the Bliss family shines brightest in his memory. Although Mrs. Bliss would disagree.

First Movement: Long Career as Preacher

I preached four thousand sermons,
I conducted forty revivals,
And baptized many converts.

Rev. Wiley begins his epitaph by citing the number of sermons he has delivered, 4000 of them. Plus he led 40 revivals, and he baptized many whom he had converted to the faith. He feels his years of service with the many sermons, revivals, and baptisms has granted him a special grace that he could be proud of and about which he can boast.

Second Movement: His Brightest Memory

Yet no deed of mine
Shines brighter in the memory of the world,
And none is treasured more by me:

The reverend then pulls out from his long line of good deeds in service to his faith one "deed," which for him remains his highest accomplishment, his deed that glows with the brightest of all his memories. It is memory of a service that he treasures more than any other.

Third Stanza: Saved From Disgrace

Recommended for You

Look how I saved the Blisses from divorce,
And kept the children free from that disgrace,
To grow up into moral men and women,
Happy themselves, a credit to the village.

Then in a rather odd mode of discourse, the reverend chooses to place his most excellent deed in a command. He thus commands his readers/listeners to "look how I saved the Blisses from divorce."

Continuing with command construction, the reverend imparts the claim that he kept the Bliss children from "disgrace." They were able to be reared to become "moral men and women." Those children were "happy themselves," and they were, likely most importantly for the preacher, "a credit to the village."

By stating his claims inside this awkward command, the reverend likely intends his evaluation of the Bliss situation to take on more authority. But instead, it possibly resounds in the listener's ear that he may be hedging or protesting too much.

And when one hears Mrs. Bliss' conclusion about her children growing up in a loveless, dark, and dank atmosphere, one has to wonder who is correct. Could it be that the children were, in fact, moral men and women who were a credit to the village, and yet inside they were the cripples, as described by Mrs. Bliss?

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq. - Clarence Darrow Law Library

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq. - Clarence Darrow Law Library

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on December 01, 2017:

Thank you, Louise! I've been at the poetry gig for many years. So I guess I can confess to knowing a little bit.

Masters' Spoon River Anthology has become an American classic. It is a fascinating piece of work. The characters are varied and represent just about every aspect of human nature. I highly recommend it for study and for just an interesting, entertaining read.

Have a blessed day, Louise! I always love hearing from you.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on November 30, 2017:

How interesting. I don't know of Edgar Lee Masters, so it's been interesting reading your article. You know a lot about poetry, so always look forward to your articles.

Related Articles