Edgar Lee Masters’ "Wendell P. Bloyd"

Updated on January 26, 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, "79. Wendell P. Bloyd"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "Wendell P. Bloyd" from Spoon River Anthology, the speaker professes a flawed interpretation of the Genesis creation myth, implying that he ultimately died because of his "blasphemy." Likely, he wants his listeners to infer either some irony or logical consequence after he reports that he was, "beaten to death by a Catholic guard."

79. Wendell P. Bloyd

They first charged me with disorderly conduct,
There being no statute on blasphemy.
Later they locked me up as insane
Where I was beaten to death by a Catholic guard.
My offense was this:
I said God lied to Adam, and destined him
To lead the life of a fool,
Ignorant that there is evil in the world as well as good.
And when Adam outwitted God by eating the apple
And saw through the lie,
God drove him out of Eden to keep him from taking
The fruit of immortal life.
For Christ’s sake, you sensible people,
Here’s what God Himself says about it in the book of Genesis:
"And the Lord God said, behold the man
Is become as one of us" (a little envy, you see),
"To know good and evil" (The all-is-good lie exposed):
"And now lest he put forth his hand and take
Also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever:
Therefore the Lord God sent Him forth from the garden of Eden."
(The reason I believe God crucified His Own Son
To get out of the wretched tangle is, because it sounds just like Him.)

Reading of "Wendell P. Bloyd"

Commentary

First Movement: "They first charged me with disorderly conduct"

Wendell P. Bloyd reports that he had been committed to an insane asylum, where he was killed by a Catholic guard. Bloyd begins his diatribe by railing against an amorphous "they" who first charged him with "disorderly conduct." According to Bloyd "they" charged him as disorderly for the simple reason that "there [is] no statute on blasphemy."

Then this nameless "they" committed him to an asylum for the insane, where he met his death at the hands of the guard. Of course, it is important to note that the guard was "Catholic."

Second Movement: "My offense was this"

Bloyd then begins to explain what his real offense was. He was not disorderly or insane, he merely offered his interpretation of Genesis, specifically Genesis 3:22:

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. (King James Version)

"They" used the excuses of disorderedly conduct and insanity to lock Bloyd up because of his belief that God lied to Adam and Eve and then expelled them from the Garden of Eden before they could become immortal.

Bloyd claims that God lied to Adam and Eve and influenced them to lead their lives as fools, unaware that both good and evil exist in the world.

Third Movement: "And when Adam outwitted God by eating the apple"

Bloyd continues his dimwitted interpretation by claiming that Adam outsmarted God when he and Eve ate the apple and thus understood that they had been lied to. And then God drove them from the Garden before they could acquire the ability to become immoral.

Fourth Movement: "For Christ’s sake, you sensible people"

In this final movement, Bloyd quotes the excerpt from the Bible, Genesis 3:22 from which he has gleaned the notion that God told Adam and Eve a lie but Adam exposed the lie and thus was expelled from paradise.

The problem with Bloyd's conclusion is that he misunderstands the reason for Adam and Eve's having been admonished against eating the "apple."

Eating the apple, which is a metaphor for engaging in sex and animal propagation, was forbidden because that activity would cause the consciousness in the newly created beings to fall from the brain down the spine to the coccyx.

In the Genesis story of creation, the "tree of life" is the human body, not life in general. The "knowledge of good and evil" also does not refer to those qualities in the world but as the human mind and body falling under the spell of the dualities and having to live under that spell.

Before the consciousness fell from the brain to the coccyx, the human's consciousness was God-united, superconsciousness. As long as the human consciousness was God-united, it was already like God, comprehending all, possessing all power, and aware that it existed eternally.

It was after the fall that human consciousness became confined, knowing, that is, having to live under the spell of mayic delusion, the qualities of good and evil, unable to access the astral and causal levels of existence with ease as it would have been before.

God complained, "the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." God is not saying that before the fall man did not know the difference between good and evil, but instead he saying that man did not have to live according to the restraints of the dualities of the physical world. Before the fall, for example, humans could bring children into existence without sexual intercourse between the pair and the woman having to carry the new life in her womb and then give birth. They could procreate immaculately.

When man became "as one of us," he did not, in fact, become as a god; quite the opposite, he lost that quality. Man by disobeying his first commandment demonstrated a hubris that made him think he could disobey without punishment. In other words, God is saying, "man now only thinks he is one of us, thus we must preclude his ability to live forever with this fallen, delusive state of mind." Therefore, God merely completed the process that Adam started when he ate the "apple."

But because Adam and Eve were now destined to live under Maya—the world of dualities of good and evil—God completed the expulsion from paradise in order to keep fallen humankind from living forever in that fallen state. In order to live forever, the human being must once again take his consciousness up the spine to the brain where it will again unite with true Divine Consciousness, as it had been in the beginning of its creation.

Bloyd's Parenthetical

Bloyd's final remark rests in parentheses:

(The reason I believe God crucified His Own Son
To get out of the wretched tangle is, because it sounds just like Him.)

This remark puts the final cap on Bloyd's useless and impaired reasoning, and it does so in a clumsy rhetorical structure as it gums up Bloyd's stance of the issue. Perhaps Bloyd thinks that by perpetuating another outrageous act, God could divert the attention of folks away from this initial "wretched" situation. But, in fact, if folks have great difficulty understanding the Genesis creation story, they will not let God off the hook for "crucif[ying] His Own Son."

Despite his seeming atheism, the interesting factoid about this final parenthetical is that Bloyd sounds almost as if he is simply angry with God, not that he does not even believe in the existence of God. Maybe he just hates Catholics!

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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