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Edgar Lee Masters' "Fiddler Jones"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Introduction and Text of "Fiddler Jones"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "Fiddler Jones" from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, the speaker waxes philosophical about life; he possesses a more congenial nature than most of the other Spoon River inmates. Although Fiddler has trials to report from his life, he remains one of the more jovial and less melancholy characters from the Spoon River bunch. He does not blames others for his lot in life.

There is no indication that Fiddler is related to the bombastic 'Indignation' Jones and his unprincipled daughter, Minerva. The fiddler's character shares nothing of the gene pool from which those two repugnant characters sprang.

Fiddler Jones

The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to "Toor-a-Loor."
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill—only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle—
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

Interpretive Reading of "Fiddler Jones"

Commentary

Fiddle Jones is one of the less melancholy figures of Spoon River, though he has his trials as well.

First Movement: Vibration in the Heart

The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.

Fiddler Jones holds forth: "The earth keeps some vibration going / There in your heart, and that is you." He believes the essence of the human being is "some vibration" that resides in the heart and that essence constitutes the personality and nature of the individual. Fiddler offers an example, using his own "vibration," his talent for playing a fiddle. He claims that when people learn of your talent, then you have to keep performing for them until you die.

Second Movement: Hearing vs Seeing

What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.

Fiddler then compares himself to a farmer, who sees "a harvest of clover," a meadow that backs up to a river, beef cattle "ready for market." Instead of all these things, Fiddler hears "the rustle of skirts" of the girls dancing while he plays his fiddle.

Third Movement: From Forty to a Thousand

To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to "Toor-a-Loor."

Fiddler refers to Cooney Potter, the farmer, who began with an inherited forty acres and turned them into a thousand and strove to double that. Fiddler asserts that a storm would leave Potter devastated, but people expected music from the fiddler so they could dance. He implies that he would not have to endure such ruin.

Fourth Movement: Music Trumps Tillage

How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill—only these?

Unlike Cooney, who coveted more and more acres, Fiddler had a head full of music, "a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos." All of these instruments were "stirred in [his] brain by crows and robins / And the creak of a wind-mill." Fiddler fiddled because he had musical talent that occupied his heart and mind.

Fifth Movement: Music in His Heart and Mind

And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.

Fiddler’s music ability, however, interfered with his ability to farm. Every time he started to plow a field, someone would come and drag him off "to a dance or picnic" to entertain them. Fiddler, however, obviously enjoyed his music more than plowing, or else he would have turned down those invitations once in a while.

Sixth Movement: No Regrets

I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle—
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

The musician claims that as he started with forty acres, he "ended up with forty acres." But he also "ended up with a broken fiddle." Sadly, Fiddler ended up with "a broken laugh, and a thousand memories." But yet not so sadly, he can report that he also ended up with no regrets.

Being without regrets puts Fiddler Jones into a very different mind-set from most of the Spoon River epitaph reporters, whose main issue usually focuses on their regrets. When they are not blaming others for their poor choices, they are whining about how they could have done better had the people around them treated them better. Thus to announce a life that results in no regrets demonstrates that Fiddler Jones is resting much easier than his fellow graveyard residents.

Favorite Spoon River Character

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

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 04, 2017:

Hello, Robert! Yes, fiddles are great and fiddlers are wonderful. Glad you appreciate the commentary. Thanks for your response, and have a blessed day!

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 04, 2017:

Thank you, Louise. I always enjoy your responses. Thank you for the kind words. So glad you appreciate the commentaries and the videos of the readings. It really does help to hear the reading of a poem out loud. Have a blessed day!

Fiddleman on May 04, 2017:

Love this hub! There is just something about old fiddles and those who play them. Thanks for a delightful read.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 04, 2017:

Again, I enjoyed reading y9ur article Linda. You know so much about poetry. I always watch the videos too, I find it helps when I'm readig your hub. Thankyou. =)

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