Edgar Lee Masters' "Georgine Sand Miner"

Updated on July 22, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Edgar Lee Masters

Source

Introduction and Text of "Georgine Sand Miner"

Georgine Sand Miner finds comfort in bringing drama into her life. Her twisted path through life included an inauspicious beginning and ends with a luckless discovery, which she will never own.

This poem is the fifth and final entry from the McNeely sequence.

103. Georgine Sand Miner

A step-mother drove me from home, embittering me.
A squaw-man, a flaneur and dilettante took my virtue.
For years I was his mistress—no one knew.
I learned from him the parasite cunning
With which I moved with the bluffs, like a flea on a dog.
All the time I was nothing but “very private” with different men.
Then Daniel, the radical, had me for years.
His sister called me his mistress;
And Daniel wrote me: “Shameful word, soiling our beautiful love!”
But my anger coiled, preparing its fangs.
My Lesbian friend next took a hand.
She hated Daniel’s sister.
And Daniel despised her midget husband.
And she saw a chance for a poisonous thrust:
I must complain to the wife of Daniel’s pursuit!
But before I did that I begged him to fly to London with me.
“Why not stay in the city just as we have?” he asked.
Then I turned submarine and revenged his repulse
In the arms of my dilettante friend. Then up to the surface,
Bearing the letter that Daniel wrote me,
To prove my honor was all intact, showing it to his wife,
My Lesbian friend and everyone.
If Daniel had only shot me dead!
Instead of stripping me naked of lies,
A harlot in body and soul!

Reading of "Georgine Sand Miner"

Commentary

Georgine Sand Miner exemplifies a typical Spoon River character who cannot hold herself responsible for her own actions.

First Movement: A Pathetic Tale

A step-mother drove me from home, embittering me.
A squaw-man, a flaneur and dilettante took my virtue.
For years I was his mistress—no one knew.
I learned from him the parasite cunning
With which I moved with the bluffs, like a flea on a dog.

Georgine begins her pathetic tale by first laying the blame for her sad life at the feet of her "step-mother," who caused Georgine to become bitter and drove her leave her home. In the very next breath, Georgine identifies herself as a harlot, who engaged in an affair with a "squaw-man," that is, a man who had an American Indian wife. The term is offensive similar to the n-word. But Georgine adds that this man was also a lazy, deceitful poseur and he took her "virtue."

That Georgine so quickly and easily lost her virtue simply demonstrates her lack of virtue from the start. She claims that "no one knew" that she and the squaw-man were carrying on their affair for years. She claims that she learned all kinds of perfidy from him. She essentially calls herself a parasite—"like a flea on a dog"—and went about deceiving everyone she met.

Second Movement: A Twisted Path

All the time I was nothing but “very private” with different men.
Then Daniel, the radical, had me for years.
His sister called me his mistress;
And Daniel wrote me: “Shameful word, soiling our beautiful love!”

During the years of her illicit relationship with the squaw-man, Georgine also engaged in adulterous relationships with "different men," keeping her activity secret even from her him. Georgine then meets Daniel M'Cumber, whom readers met earlier in the preceding epitaph. She labels Daniel a "radical," and grossly claims that he "had [her] for years."

Georgine complains that Daniel's sister called her his "mistress," and apparently she got that news from a letter Daniel had sent her himself complaining that his sister had used that "shameful word," and lamenting that that word was responsible for "soiling [their] beautiful love."

Daniel's own epitaph has already revealed him to be scoundrel, but neither Daniel's nor Georgine's stories supports the notion that Daniel was a "radical." Perhaps the fact that Daniel took up with Georgine, who had been associated with a Marxist group reveals him at open to radicalism. But both epitaphs focus on illicit romance more strongly than on politics.

Third Movement: Anger and Drama

But my anger coiled, preparing its fangs.
My Lesbian friend next took a hand.
She hated Daniel’s sister.
And Daniel despised her midget husband.

Georgine then claims that her anger grew, colorfully expressing it as "coiled" and readying "its fangs." Georgine seems to desire conflict; she reports that her "Lesbian friend," who was married to a "midget husband, got involved.

The Lesbian hated the sister of Danie,l and Daniel hated the Lesbian's husband. Thus Georgine could enjoy from the middle of the dispute other people's misery, which likely gave her some relief from focusing on her own inner turmoil.

Fourth Movement: Attempted Extrication

And she saw a chance for a poisonous thrust:
I must complain to the wife of Daniel’s pursuit!
But before I did that I begged him to fly to London with me.
“Why not stay in the city just as we have?” he asked.

The Lesbian has some kind of damaging activity in mind, but Georgine feels that it may be necessary to admonish her against it, even though she fears Daniel might have also been planning some strategy against the "midget husband."

But then Georgine decides that instead getting herself embroiled in such a brouhaha, she would try to talk Daniel into traipsing off to London. But Daniel refuses to fly off with her and instead suggests that they remain where they are.

Fifth Movement: Reclaiming "Honor"

Then I turned submarine and revenged his repulse
In the arms of my dilettante friend. Then up to the surface,
Bearing the letter that Daniel wrote me,
To prove my honor was all intact, showing it to his wife,
My Lesbian friend and everyone.

Georgine was angered to the core that she could not persuade Daniel to fly to London with her. So she hatched in stealth a plan to get revenge against Daniel. She again takes up with the dilettante squaw-man. Then she decides to come out in the open.

To the squaw-man's wife, to her "Lesbian friend and everyone," Georgine shows the letter that Daniel had written her, likely the one in which he had told his sister that his and Georgine's love was "beautiful" and that the sister had falsely slimed them in using the shameful word "mistress" against Georgine.

Georgine claims that she showed the letter to prove that she still possessed her "honor." Her focus on her "honor" comes too late, however. Her attempt to prove she possessed any honor is then rebuffed by everyone who knows her. She was finally revealed as a liar and fraud.

Fifth Movement: The Final, Sad Truth

If Daniel had only shot me dead!
Instead of stripping me naked of lies,
A harlot in body and soul!

Georgine, of course, to the end will not take responsibility for her own actions. Being rebuked by Daniel finally reveals to her the nature of her perfidy, and she complains that being shot dead by Daniel would have been preferable to having her lies strip her "naked" to reveal that she was, indeed only a "harlot in body and soul."

Edgar Lee Masters - Commemorative Stamp USA

Source

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.

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    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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