Edgar Lee Masters' "Minerva Jones"
Edgar Lee Masters
Introduction and Text of Poem, "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."
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!
First Movement: "I am Minerva, the village poetess"
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: "He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers"
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: "Will some one go to the village newspaper"
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: "I thirsted so for love!"
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. She rivals Hillary Clinton in her duplicity and crookedness. After losing her life, Minerva is now asking for 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!"
The "Minerva Jones" sequence:
Interpretive Reading of "Minerva Jones"
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