Edgar Lee Masters' "Rev. Abner Peet"

Updated on January 29, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edgar Lee Masters

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Rev. Abner Peet"

In this short, eleven line epitaph, the speaker is once again a man of the cloth. But like other Spoon River graveyard folks, he has something to get off his chest. His household belongings have been sold at auction, and he is glad that members of his church could be afforded the opportunity to possess an item of his by which they might keep the reverend in their hearts and minds.

But when the trunk in which the reverend had kept his lifetime of sermons was sold to a bar-keep, the reverend was horrified by the treatment the bar-keep afforded those precious sermons. Thus, the reverend must expound on the insult to vent his spleen.

Rev. Abner Peet

I had no objection at all
To selling my household effects at auction
On the village square.
It gave my beloved flock the chance
To get something which had belonged to me
For a memorial.
But that trunk which was struck off
To Burchard, the grog-keeper!
Did you know it contained the manuscripts
Of a lifetime of sermons?
And he burned them as waste paper.

Reading of "Rev. Abner Peet"

Commentary

First Movement: Sold to the Highest Bidder

I had no objection at all
To selling my household effects at auction
On the village square.

The reverend begins by making it known that after his death, his belongings were auctioned off in the village square. And Rev. Peet did not mind that all his household items were sold.

As with most of the Spoon River speakers, Rev. Peet begins with bit of imagery that he hopes will plant a notion in the mind of his audience. Usually the speakers plan to direct their hearers to understand how gracious, thoughtful, or dignified they had been during the events that they describe.

Second Movement: Precious Memorials

It gave my beloved flock the chance
To get something which had belonged to me
For a memorial.

The reverend then offers his reasoning behind graciously accepting the fact that his stuff got auctioned off to the highest bidder. The people who would be buy his things had been members of his "beloved flock."

The reverend seemed to feel gratified that he could allow those beloved followers to possess an item of himself as a memento that could continue to remind them of their beloved pastor.

Third Movement: In the Hand of a Bar-Keep

But that trunk which was struck off
To Burchard, the grog-keeper!

Now the reverend comes to the point of this report that galls him. His trunk was sold to Burchard, who was the bar keeper or tavern owner. The reverend ends his incomplete thought in a exclamatory clause concluded with an exclamation mark.

This exclamation point alerts the audience that the reverend has become excited, and as one may assume, not in a good way. That the reverend employs the term "grog-keeper" for tavern owner or bar keeper simply demonstrates the pastor's unfamiliarity with the terms of that line of work.

Burchard no doubt sold more kinds of alcoholic drinks in the bar than "grog." The reverend, however, may think that using the term "grog" is less severe than using the other terms associated with that line of work that involves alcohol.

Fourth Movement: Up in Smoke

Did you know it contained the manuscripts
Of a lifetime of sermons?
And he burned them as waste paper.

Rev. Peet then reveals the issue that is galling him: that trunk that the bar-keep bought contained the reverend's sermons, and it was a "lifetime of sermons." And the kicker is that Burchard burned those sermons "as waste paper."

Funny, that the reverend seems to think a bar-keeper would do otherwise. Did Rev. Peet expect Burchard to read the sermons and keep them in a special place for later reference?

Perhaps some other member of his "beloved flock" might have done that; perhaps one of his kinder, gentler member like Emily Sparks, but it is likely that most of the members of that "beloved flock" would have purchased that trunk for same reason the bar-keep did: to use it as a container in which to place their own belongings. Perhaps Burchard will keep recipes for "grog" in it now.

Life Sketch of Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters, (August 23, 1868 - March 5, 1950), authored some 39 books in addition to Spoon River Anthology, yet nothing in his canon ever gained the wide fame that the 243 reports of people speaking from the beyond the grave brought him. In addition to the individual reports, or "epitaphs," as Masters called them, the Anthology includes three other long poems that offer summaries or other material pertinent to the cemetery inmates or the atmosphere of the fictional town of Spoon River, #1 "The Hill,"#245 "The Spooniad," and #246 "Epilogue."

Edgar Lee Masters was born on August 23, 1868, in Garnett, Kansas; the Masters family soon relocated to Lewistown, Illinois. The fictional town of Spoon River constitutes a composite of Lewistown, where Masters grew up and Petersburg, IL, where his grandparents resided. While the town of Spoon River was a creation of Masters' doing, there is an Illinois river named "Spoon River," which is a tributary of the Illinois River in the west-central part of the state, running a 148-mile-long stretch between Peoria and Galesburg.

Masters briefly attended Knox College but had to drop out because of the family's finances. He went on to study law and later had a rather successful law practice, after being admitted to the bar in 1891. He later became a partner in the law office of Clarence Darrow, whose name spread far and wide because of the Scopes Trial—The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes—also jeeringly known as the "Monkey Trial."

Masters married Helen Jenkins in 1898, and the marriage brought Master nothing but heartache. In his memoir, Across Spoon River, the woman features heavily in his narrative without his ever mentioning her name; he refers to her only as the "Golden Aura," and he does not mean it in a good way.

Masters and the "Golden Aura" produced three children, but they divorced in 1923. He married Ellen Coyne in 1926, after having relocated to New York City. He stopped practicing law in order to devote more time to writing.

Masters was awarded the Poetry Society of America Award, the Academy Fellowship, the Shelley Memorial Award, and he was also the recipient of a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

On March 5, 1950, just five months shy of his 82 birthday, the poet died in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, in a nursing facility. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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