Edgar Lee Masters' "Knowlt Hoheimer" and "Lydia Puckett

Updated on February 2, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

In Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, the short poems, or epitaphs as Masters called them, "Knowlt Hoheimer" features a man who regrets among other things that he had the misfortune of dying in battle.

The character, "Lydia Puckett," offers a little drama showcasing her thoughts on the topic of Knowlt's joining the army.

"Knowlt Hoheimer"

I was the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge.
When I felt the bullet enter my heart
I wished I had staid at home and gone to jail
For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary,
Instead of running away and joining the army.
Rather a thousand times the country jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, "Pro Patria."
What do they mean, anyway?

According to Knowlt, he simply joined the army to avoid jail. He stole some livestock belonging to another man, and thus faced serving time for the crime.

First Movement: "I was the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge"

Knowlt is claiming to have been the first casualty of "the battle of Missionary Ridge." He died after "the bullet enter[ed his] heart."

Knowlt had signed up with the army and went off to war to avoid being incarcerated. After stealing some farm animals belonging to Curl Trenary, Knowlt simply ran off to join the army.

Because he is now dead, having become the first to die in the battle in which his infantry was engaged, he deeply regrets his choice. He discovers that serving some jail time would be preferable to dying in war.

Second Movement: "Rather a thousand times the country jail"

Knowlt now professes great regret over his deadly decision. He laments, "Rather a thousand times the country jail / Than to lie under this marble figure with wings."

Knowlt supposes that he would still be living, had he served his time in jail. He imagines that serving a thousand jail terms would beat dying.

Apparently, Knowlt has been recognized as a war hero. He rests beneath a majestic monument which he describes: "this marble figure with wings, / And this granite pedestal / Bearing the words, "Pro Patria."

Knowlt reveals that he does not even comprehend that "Pro Patria" means "for country." He asks rather sarcastically, "What do they mean, anyway?"

That he does not even know the Latin phrase suggest that he would not believe the sentiment even if understood the words in translation. He likely believes along with the speaker in Wilred Owen's "Dulce et Decroum Est" that the old Horace adage was a lie.

Knowlt by revealing what he does not know further reveals his ignorant narcissism.

"Lydia Puckett

Knowlt Hoheimer ran away to the war
The day before Curl Trenary
Swore out a warrant through Justice Arnett
For stealing hogs.
But that’s not the reason he turned a soldier.
He caught me running with Lucius Atherton.
We quarreled and I told him never again
To cross my path.
Then he stole the hogs and went to the war—
Back of every soldier is a woman.

Lydia Puckett spews forth a very different view of Knowlt Hoheimer's actions. Although he has asserted that he ran off and joined the army simply because he stole some livestock and would have landed in jail over it, Lydia believes Knowlt went to the army because she told him to buzz off.

First Movement: "Knowlt Hoheimer ran away to the war"

Lydia begins her epitaph by reporting some specifics not revealed by Knowlt. Justice Arnett had sworn out a warrant for Knowlt to be arrested, after Curl Trenary, owner of the livestock stolen by Knowlt, had pressed charges against the thief.

Thus, Knowlt claims to have joined the army to avoid incarceration, but Lydia now insists that Knowlt did not got to war for that reason.

Second Movement: "He caught me running with Lucius Atherton"

Lydia and Knowlt had been sweethearts. Then Lydia started seeing "Lucius Atherton" while still involved with Knowlt. After Knowlt discovered Lydia's cheating, the two quarreled. Then Lydia broke ended her relationship with Knowlt.

Knowlt, after the quarrel and break up of his relationship with Lydia, then committed to thief of hogs from Curl Trenary. He subsequently went off to war and was killed.

Lydia waxes philosophical about Knowlt's having died as a soldier; she reasons, unreasonably, "Back of every soldier is a woman."

Reading of "Knowlt Hoheimer" and "Lydia Puckett"

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)