Updated date:

Edgar Lee Masters' "Blind Jack"

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 "Blind Jack"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "Blind Jack" from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, the speaker reports his drama in the form of an American sonnet, also known as an Innovative sonnet. This sonnet is the epitome of "innovative." The poem displays itself in four movements, offering a cinquain, a tercet, a couplet, and a quatrain.

The poem eschews both rime and rhythm, opting nevertheless for a surprise conclusion that is both gripping and a bit shocking, but in the final analysis nothing short of fascinating.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Blind Jack

I had fiddled all at the county fair.
But driving home “Butch” Weldy and Jack McGuire,
Who were roaring full, made me fiddle and fiddle
To the song of Susie Skinner, while whipping the horses
Till they ran away.

Blind as I was, I tried to get out
As the carriage fell in the ditch,
And was caught in the wheels and killed.

There’s a blind man here with a brow
As big and white as a cloud.

And all we fiddlers, from highest to lowest,
Writers of music and tellers of stories,
Sit at his feet,
And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.

Reading of "Blind Jack"

Commentary

Poor Blind Jack the Fiddler dies because of two drunken louts who drove a set of horses too fast and landed them all in a ditch. But Jack has an important report to offer from his seat in the afterlife.

First Movement Cinquain: Drunken Louts of Death

I had fiddled all at the county fair.
But driving home “Butch” Weldy and Jack McGuire,
Who were roaring full, made me fiddle and fiddle
To the song of Susie Skinner, while whipping the horses
Till they ran away.

Blind Jack begins by asserting that he had been playing his fiddle all day at the county fair. No doubt he was tired and eager to get home to rest. Jack was riding in a buckboard with two drunken louts, Butch Weldy and Jack McGuire. The two drunks insisted that Blind Jack keep playing his fiddle. Seems they were partial to the tune, "Susie Skinner." So they insisted that Jack keep playing that song.

Jack reports that they kept whipping the horses to make them run faster and faster. But the horses with horse-minds of the own then ran wild and landed the trio in a ditch.

Second Movement Tercet: Trapped by Wheels

Blind as I was, I tried to get out
As the carriage fell in the ditch,
And was caught in the wheels and killed.

Jack then claims that even though he was blind as bat he tried to save himself by jumping from the buckboard as it was tumbling into the ditch. Unfortunately, the blind fiddler became trapped by the wheels of the carriage and was killed.

Third Movement Couplet: Finished His Earthly Talk

There’s a blind man here with a brow
As big and white as a cloud.

Jack the blind fiddler has now finished his earthly tale and begins his report of things from where his soul now exists. He reveals that he has encountered another blind man, and this man's brow is "as big and white as a cloud."

This revelation, of course, implies that Jack can now see. Otherwise, he would not know that this blind man had such a brow.

Fourth Movement Quatrain: Greek Poet, Homer

And all we fiddlers, from highest to lowest,
Writers of music and tellers of stories,
Sit at his feet,
And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.

Jack, in his final movement, confides that the "blind man" with the cloud-like eyebrows is none other than the famous Greek poet, Homer. Jack does not mention the poet's name, but his description makes it abundantly clear to whom he is referring.

Jack also reports that all types of creative writers sit at the poet Homer's feet listening to him tell the tales that have come down to us as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid. And, of course, all flavor of musicians, especially fiddlers "from highest to lowest," place themselves among those craving to hear a good yarn.

Homer's Appearance and How Blind Jack Would Know

Interestingly, all the images and busts of the poet Homer that we have today do not show that he had such a prominent brow. Likely, the blind fiddler is merely exaggerating for effect. He probably surmises that extraordinary, creative folks like Homer would also be extraordinary in appearance.

Also Jack's description raises another puzzle: was Jack able to see at some point in his life? was he not born blind? had he actually seen any of the busts and likenesses that exist of Homer? However, if before he lost his sight, Jack had seen an image of what Homer has been considered to look like, one can only accept that his postmortem description is, in fact, pure exaggeration.

On the other hand, readers may simply interpret Jack's ability to see after death as the soul's immutable ability and that Jack is now able to correct all the images that do not push forth the big and cloud-like brow that belongs on Homer.

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

Related Articles