78. Edgar Lee Masters' "State’s Attorney Fallas"

Updated on October 1, 2017
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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


Introduction and Epitaph #78 State’s Attorney Fallas

State's Attorney Fallas became the seeker of justice for the wife murderer, Barry Holden. But his own life was influenced by an accident of birth when his son was left mentally challenged by the actions of a doctor.

78. State's Attorney Fallas

I, the scourge-wielder, balance-wrecker,
Smiter with whips and swords;
I, hater of the breakers of the law;
I, legalist, inexorable and bitter,
Driving the jury to hang the madman, Barry Holden,
Was made as one dead by light too bright for eyes,
And woke to face a Truth with bloody brow:
Steel forceps fumbled by a doctor’s hand
Against my boy’s head as he entered life
Made him an idiot.
I turned to books of science
To care for him.
That’s how the world of those whose minds are sick
Became my work in life, and all my world.
Poor ruined boy! You were, at last, the potter
And I and all my deeds of charity
The vessels of your hand.

Reading of "State's Attorney Fallas"

First Movement: "I, the scourge-wielder, balance-wrecker"

The state attorney begins by describing himself. He paints a picture of a severe man who is a "hater of the breakers of law." He is a bitter man, and he freely admits it. He also embellishes his past action with claims such as "smiter with whips and swords," more likely with words and arguments because after all he is a "legalist."

In that role as legalist, State Attorney Fallas managed to persuade a "the jury to hang the madman, Barry Holden." Interestingly, Fallas rather glides over Barry Holden by making the simple claim that he was able to bring about the corporal punishment of the wife murderer.

Readers are just coming off the "Barry Holden" epitaph, in which they learned of the depravity of Holden, who was influenced by watching a jury trial of a doctor who murdered his pregnant lover. While readers might hanker for more information about Holden, they can be slaked just to know that Holden did hang for his crime.

Now we must move on to the man, who was able to have the madman hanged. And the state attorney turns out to be a rather colorful and wide-ranging character. Though a sad and bitter man, he turns out to be a compassionate man, who tried to offer aid and comfort to his disabled son.

Second Movement: "Steel forceps fumbled by a doctor’s hand"

The central motivating factor in the state attorney's life is described in this movement. As the man's son was coming into this world, a doctor employed the use of forceps but badly mishandled the instrument, leaving the boy to live with a damaged brain.

Attorney Fallas frames the boy's condition a being that of an "idiot." This term used be a technical term used in psychology in a classification system for mental retardation. Now the system, the terms, even the term "mental retardation" have all been axed, yielding to the creeping distortions of political correctness.

Therefore, Fallas was not calling his son an offensive name; he was giving the prevailing label of those with an I.Q. rating of under 25 and the mental capacity of under three years old.

Third Movement: "I turned to books of science"

Attorney Fallas then reports that because of his son's infirmity he started to read "books of science" to figure out the best methods for caring for his severely mentally challenged son.

The attorney then makes the startling claim that the world of those mentally sick became his main focus in life. That study become "all my world." His intensity in pursuing knowledge regarding the mentally challenged flooded his life, likely making it difficult to face certain legal cases with equanimity.

As the attorney faced down the madman, Barry Holden, he was likely keenly aware of the difference between the mentally challenged and the criminally insane.

Fourth Movement: "Poor ruined boy! You were, at last, the potter"

The attorney then address his son, exclaiming, "Poor ruined boy!" Fallas again makes a startling claim: metaphorically, he likens himself to a piece of clay that has continued to be molded on a potter's wheel by his son and his son's condition. The son has served as the "potter," who molded the attorney's life.

All the ministrations the state attorney has offered his son and all that the attorney has done for "charity" have come about because of his son's mental challenge, which the state attorney wished to ameliorate with his care and attention.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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