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Edgar Lee Masters' "A. D. Blood" and "Robert Southey Burke"

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

  Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters

Introduction and Text of "A. D. Blood"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "A. D. Blood" from his American classic, Spoon River Anthology, the speaker offers a report that is short and sweet; he has a simple complaint that he hurls at the Spoon River folk in the form of a question. Mr. A. D. Blood is bemoaning the agony he suffers from having a couple employ his grave as a bed where they engaging in the act of fornication.

A. D. Blood

If you in the village think that my work was a good one,
Who closed the saloons and stopped all playing at cards,
And haled old Daisy Fraser before Justice Arnett,
In many a crusade to purge the people of sin;
Why do you let the milliner’s daughter Dora,
And the worthless son of Benjamin Pantier
Nightly make my grave their unholy pillow?

Reading of "A. D. Blood"

Commentary

Masters’ character, A. D. Blood is outraged that a couple is using his grave for a site for trysting.

First Movement: Appreciation Doubted

Mr. Blood cautiously assumes that the village of Spoon River appreciated the fact that he went about on "a crusade to purge the people of sin." Mayor Blood was instrumental in closing saloons and shutting down gambling.

Mr. Blood even snitched on Daisy Fraser’s prostitution activity, causing her to be hauled up in from of Judge Arnett repeatedly. Mr. Blood is sure that his work was good, but he can only surmise that the town agreed with him; thus he is forced to place his activities in an "if" clause and then ask his pertinent question.

Second Movement: A Legend in His Own Mind

Because Mr. Blood had such a good influence on Spoon River, at least in his own mind, he now wonders why the town allows this impertinent couple to fornicate on his grave. Mr. Blood names the couple: "the worthless son of Benjamin Pantier" and "the milliner’s daughter Dora."

Mr. Blood colorfully refers to their dirty deed as "[n]ightly mak[ing] my grave their unholy pillow." But was Mr. Blood correct in calling Reuben Pantier "worthless"? Emily Sparks offers a different opinion about Reuben.

Introduction and Text of "Robert Southey Burke"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "Robert Southey Burke" from Spoon River Anthology, Mr. Burke lets off steam from his animosity toward "A. D. Blood." A.D. Blood had served as mayor of Spoon River and was annoyed that a couple was now using his grave as a place to fornicate.

Although Blood did not mention Burke, Blood’s personality begins to emerge as a self-righteous, pompous character as Burke unveils his travails. At the same time, Burke reveals his own small, sniveling character as his complaints unfold.

Robert Southey Burke

I spent my money trying to elect you Mayor,
A. D. Blood.
I lavished my admiration upon you,
You were to my mind the almost perfect man.
You devoured my personality,
And the idealism of my youth,
And the strength of a high-souled fealty.
And all my hopes for the world,
And all my beliefs in Truth,
Were smelted up in the blinding heat
Of my devotion to you,
And molded into your image.
And then when I found what you were:
That your soul was small
And your words were false
As your blue-white porcelain teeth,
And your cuffs of celluloid,
I hated the love I had for you,
I hated myself, I hated you
For my wasted soul, and wasted youth.
And I say to all, beware of ideals,
Beware of giving your love away
To any man alive.

Reading of "Robert Southey Burke"

Commentary

Robert Southey Burke has a huge axe to grind against A. D. Blood.

First Movement: Electing a Perfect Man

I spent my money trying to elect you Mayor,
A. D. Blood.
I lavished my admiration upon you,
You were to my mind the almost perfect man.

Burke begins by reporting, as he addresses Blood, that he "spent [his] money trying to get" Blood elected mayor. Continuing, Burke claims that he "lavished [his] admiration" on Blood. Burke then admits that he thought Blood was "the almost perfect man." Either Burke was naïve or Blood was a master at deception, likely a healthy portion of each.

Second Movement: Hero Worship Gone Sour

You devoured my personality,
And the idealism of my youth,
And the strength of a high-souled fealty.
And all my hopes for the world,
And all my beliefs in Truth,
Were smelted up in the blinding heat
Of my devotion to you,
And molded into your image.

Burke turns ugly and desperate rather quickly as he laments, "You devoured my personality, / And the idealism of my youth." Furthermore, Burke accuses Blood of stealing his fierce loyalty in addition to all of his "hopes for the world, / And all my beliefs in Truth." All of Burke's hopes and beliefs were bound up tightly in his "devotion" to Blood. Burke had "molded" an image of Blood that was beyond super-human.

Third Movement: Fake, Fake, Fake

And then when I found what you were:
That your soul was small
And your words were false
As your blue-white porcelain teeth,
And your cuffs of celluloid,
I hated the love I had for you,

Then Burke discovered the real Blood. Burke does not reveal how he discovered the truth about his idol, but once he did, he realizes that Blood had a small soul, that Blood’s words were as fake as his "blue-white porcelain teeth," and his "cuffs of celluloid." And after making this shocking discovery, Burke "hated the love [he] had for "Blood]."

Fourth Movement: Admiration Turned to Hatred

I hated myself, I hated you
For my wasted soul, and wasted youth.
And I say to all, beware of ideals,
Beware of giving your love away
To any man alive.

Furthermore, Burke despised himself. And he hated Blood for wasting Burke’s soul, youth, and ideals. Burke ends his tirade by offering what he thinks is sage advice: "Beware of giving your love away / To any man alive." Poor Robert Southey Burke died a lonely, disgruntled, deluded man.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

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

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