Edgar Lee Masters' "Daisy Fraser"
Edgar Lee Masters U.S. Stamp
Introduction and Text of Poem, "Daisy Fraser"
The character “Daisy Fraser” from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology reports the immoral and illegal acts of her fellow Spoon River citizens solely for the purpose of rehabilitating her own reputation for villainy.
Ddi you ever hear of Editor Whedon
Giving to the public treasury any of the money he received
For supporting candidates for office?
Or for writing up the canning factory
To get people to invest?
Or for suppressing the facts about the bank,
When it was rotten and ready to break?
Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge
Helping anyone except the “Q” railroad,
Or the bankers? Or did Rev. Peet or Rev. Sibley
Give any part of their salary, earned by keeping still,
Or speaking out as the leaders wished them to do,
To the building of the water works?
But I—Daisy Fraser who always passed
Along the streets through rows of nods and smiles,
And coughs and words such as “there she goes,”
Never was taken before Justice Arnett
Without contributing ten dollars and costs
To the school fund of Spoon River!
Reading of Masters' "Daisy Fraser"
First Movement: “Did you ever hear of Editor Whedon”
The speaker begins with a question that implicates “Editor Whedon” in political improprieties, that is, taking money for “supporting candidates for office.” But the speaker wants to know if the editor ever gave that money to the “public treasury.”
Of course, her rhetorical question is implying that he, in fact, did not. And she continues her questioning filled with further implications of political shenanigans. The fact that she is choosing easy targets should alert the reader early on regarding what is happening in Daisy’s mind.
Second Movement: “Or for writing up the canning factory”
In the second movement, Daisy continues her rhetorical queries, wondering if the illegal funds from the canning factory were given to the public treasury. Again, she is suggesting that the money was used by the editor for lining his own pocket. The editor also received kickbacks for hiding the financial condition of the bank, when it was on the verge of folding.
The editor of the newspaper should have been revealing these unsavory facts about these institutions, but instead he took money and kept quiet, if the reader believes as Daisy does. Daisy wants to demonstrate, of course, that she is decrying that fact that freedom of the press can be abused.
Third Movement: “Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge”
The third movement contains two movements that are blended. The first part features the rhetorical question, “Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge / Helping anyone except the “Q” railroad, / Or the bankers?” Daisy now focuses on a judicial officer who blinks when influential parties commit illegal acts.
The accusation again includes the implication that like the editor, the judge is also on the take. But then she immediately focuses on the religious establishment by again questioning whether the reverends Peet and Sibley had ever contributed to the public works, that is, “water works,” any of the money they received by keeping quiet about the graft.
Not only was the press corrupt but the legal and religious institutions were rife with corruption as well, and of course with a press acquiescing the face of that corruption, the corruption is likely not only to continue but to spread.
Fourth Movement: “But I—Daisy Fraser who always passed”
In the final movement, all of Daisy’s implied accusations take a tumble. When Daisy Fraser appeared before Justice Arnett, she always had to pay up, “contributing ten dollars and costs / To the school fund of Spoon River!”
Daisy reveals, if only by implication, her own misdeeds. She bristled under the "nods and smiles" and "coughs and words such as 'there she goes." She would observe people's reaction to her as she walk down the streets, and she keenly resented them for those responses.
So she attempts to make herself seem better by blacking the reputations of others; therefore, whether all of that graft took place or not, the reader does not know, because Daisy has proven herself an unreliable witness.
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.
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes