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

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Edgar Lee Masters

Introduction and Text of "A. D. Blood"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "A. D. Blood" from 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.

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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