Edgar Lee Masters' "Minerva Jones"

Updated on October 4, 2019
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 "Minerva Jones"

Edgar Lee Masters’ "Minerva Jones" from the Spoon River Anthology dramatizes the report of an utterly wretched young woman who succumbed to an abortion procedure. This epitaph is the first in a series of five interrelated poems: "'Indignation' Jones," "Doctor Meyers," "Mrs. Meyers," and "'Butch' Weldy."

Minerva Jones

I am Minerva, the village poetess,
Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk,
And all the more when "Butch" Weldy
Captured me after a brutal hunt.
He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers;
And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up,
Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice.
Will some one go to the village newspaper,
And gather into a book the verses I wrote?—
I thirsted so for love!
I hungered so for life!

Interpretive Reading of "Minerva Jones"

Commentary

The epitaph “Minerva Jones” is the first in a series of five interrelated poems: “'Indignation' Jones,” “Doctor Meyers,” “Mrs. Meyers,” and “'Butch' Weldy.”

First Movement: Acquainted with Classic Works

I am Minerva, the village poetess,
Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk,
And all the more when "Butch" Weldy
Captured me after a brutal hunt.

Minerva proudly proclaims, "I am Minerva, the village poetess," but she then immediately announces that she was, "Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street." Likening the boorish individuals of the village to the Swiftian characters, "the Yahoos," in Gulliver’s Travels, she demonstrates that she is, in fact, acquainted with classic literary works and that she deems herself above her fellow citizens of Spoon River.

These "Yahoos" taunted poor Minerva because of her "heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk." And these characteristics were only exacerbated by her pregnancy, as she reveals when she asserts, "And all the more when "'Butch' Weldy / Captured me after a brutal hunt." Minerva describes her relationship with "Butch" Weldy as a "brutal hunt" after which he "captured" her. This description indicates that she is now attempting to portray herself as a victim, in order to excuse her own deeds: he hunted her, he captured her.

But she does not indicate that he raped her, although she tries to imply as much. Quite likely, she was a willing participant in the creation of their child, but now she attempting to excuse her own behavior—a typical response of many of the Spoon River residents to their own flaws.

Second Movement: Abandoned to Her Fate

He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers;
And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up,
Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice.

Minerva then reveals that Butch "left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers." By admitting that he "left" her, she inadvertently admits that they were, in fact, a couple. Women do not complain that their rapist has "left" them; they lament that they were raped.

So after being abandoned by her baby’s father, Minerva attempts to address her issue by seeking out a doctor who is willing to kill her unborn child, "He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers"—and her fate with the good Doctor Meyers results in her death. Minerva describes the dying process as a spreading paralysis from her "feet up / Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice."

Third Movement: Baby! What Baby?

Will some one go to the village newspaper,
And gather into a book the verses I wrote?—

With no mention of the baby’s death, Minerva’s thoughts turn to her "verses" which were published in the "village newspaper." She wonders if someone will visit the newspaper office to collect her verses and publish them in a book. Her selfishness and disingenuousness know no bounds.

Fourth Movement: Duplicitous and Crooked

I thirsted so for love!
I hungered so for life!

Minerva’s final flourish reveals the epitome of irony: she "thirsted so for love!" Might she not have had much love to give and receive from the child she has so brutally murdered? She "hungered so for life!" Not the life of her unborn baby, however.

Minerva reveals herself to be one of the most despicable, soulless characters of Spoon River. After losing her life, Minerva is now asking someone to collect her verse into a book to demonstrate that what happened to her was a great tragedy because she "thirsted so for love!" and "hungered so for life!"

Commemorative Stamp

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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

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Sue Grimes 

      5 weeks ago from U.S.A.

      Madelaine Adam, thank you, for your comment.

      Just a few quick responses.

      1. ". . . you are not correct on the relationship between Minerva and Butch. He definitely raped her, and brutally."

      While the lines, "'Butch' Weldy / Captured me after a brutal hunt," may be interpreted to imply a rape, they do not state definitely that a rape occurred, and the brutality was in the "hunt," not the act itself.

      "There is another annotated version of Spoon River that confirms this."

      I would be interested in seeing a direct quotation from that version that supports your claim.

      2. "he and the 'yahoos' (of which he was the leader of the pack) most likely GANG-RAPED her"

      This claim is patently false. The line, "Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street," clearly states that the "Yahoos" are the people of Spoon River who taunted Minerva as she walked down the street. Even Minerva does not hint at a "gang-rape."

      3. "All of these speeches should honestly rip your heart out or make you laugh. There are no in-betweens."

      While each reader is entitled to his/her own opinion of and reaction to these characters, the gamut of reactions certainly remains much wider than the simplistic dichotomy of "rip your heart out or make you laugh." And there are many "in-betweens." There are many merely unsympathetic characters such as Knowlt Hoheimer and Lydia Puckett, and there are some who are actually admirable, such as Emily Sparks, Fiddler Jones, and Sarah Brown. Edgar Lee Masters' character study would have had a rather limited scope had it included only two types of characters. In fact, Spoon River Anthology has become a classic because of the wide range of characters explored in its pages.

    • profile image

      Madelaine Adam 

      5 weeks ago

      Hello! I am in an acting class and we happen to use these poems once we get to the advanced level of work. While you are on point with a few of your notions, I wanted to inform you that you are not correct on the relationship between Minerva and Butch. He definitely raped her, and brutally. There is another annotated version of Spoon River that confirms this.

      When you read out from the text and not into it, the answers become clear as day. Butch not only raped her, but he did so after a "brutal hunt"...which means he and the "yahoos" (of which he was the leader of the pack) most likely GANG-RAPED her after chasing and tormenting this poor woman, leaving her pregnant.

      After this, the village idiots tormented her for walking even more "rolling" (or in pain from gang-rape) and heavier with child (product of the rape).

      So, she went to Dr. Meyer's for a solution. For another chance at LIFE.

      In these poems the main objective of every speech becomes clear with the last sentence. "I thirsted so for love! I hungered so for life!"...This poor, tragic woman wanted more for herself, and she was RUINED by this man and his gang of yahoos. He stole whatever goodness she had, and as a last resort to try and put her tragedy behind her, she sought an abortion. Now I know it's probably too much to ask a clearly conservative woman to see the merit in this woman's actions because all you read is "abortion" or "baby killer"...but she was a young woman who carried the burdens of that rape all alone. If you were gang-raped and pregnant, would you want to keep that baby? Try and see it from her perspective.

      Minerva Jones wanted to be known for her real legacy: her poems. She begs to have them collected and bound in a book for people to read and judge her for the first time only for her words, and not her looks. She was not being selfish or covering up her misdeeds. She simply was a girl suffocating from tragedy who tried to do what was best for her to move on and to heal, only to die from complications.

      It's a tragic story, filled with sorrow and should be acted as such. All of these speeches should honestly rip your heart out or make you laugh. There are no in-betweens.

      I am saying something because I honestly find your work helpful. I tried to play it the way you said and was embarrassed when a classmate with a different version of the book said: "no, you were absolutely raped"...So, you misguided me, which is fine. I learned I can't trust anyone but my own instincts with these Spoon Rivers. I just want to be sure you don't misguide anyone else.

      ....and shame on you for misjudging Miss Minerva Jones! She deserves way more credit than what you gave her.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Sue Grimes 

      7 months ago from U.S.A.

      Yes, you're right, bluemoontexan. Masters has created quite a motley crowd of scoundrels, most of whose main characteristic is selfishness. While Spoon River Anthology remains an American classic, it does become a bit tedious having to contend with such ugliness from all these characters.

    • profile image

      bluemoontexan 

      7 months ago

      Thanks for your commentary. I had been wondering whether she had been raped, and I noticed that Butch’s epitaph didn’t seem to acknowledge her at all. It’s true that most of these residents don’t seem to show any care for anyone but themselves.

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