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Edgar Lee Masters’ "Mrs. Meyers"

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. - Clarence Darrow Law Library

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq. - Clarence Darrow Law Library

Introduction and Text of "Mrs. Meyers"

Edgar Lee Masters "Mrs. Meyers" from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, is an American curtal sonnet. The curtal sonnet features 11 lines with the traditional rime scheme of abcabc dcbdc or abcabc dbcdc. The final line is often a half line; an example is Father Gerard Manley Hopkins "Pied Beauty." Father Hopkins is credited with this form’s invention. However, Masters’ curtal departs from the traditional form as it dispenses with the rime scheme and is sectioned into two quatrains and one tercet; thus, it is an innovative or American curtal sonnet.

"Mrs. Meyers" is the fourth poem in the "Minerva" sequence. The poem finds Dr. Meyers' wife testifying to the fact that her husband, whom she calls "Poor soul," reaped his just rewards for his actions in life, particularly the abortion that killed Minerva.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Mrs. Meyers

He protested all his life long
The newspapers lied about him villainously;
That he was not at fault for Minerva’s fall,
But only tried to help her.
Poor soul so sunk in sin he could not see
That even trying to help her, as he called it,
He had broken the law human and divine.
Passers by, an ancient admonition to you:
If your ways would be ways of pleasantness,
And all your pathways peace,
Love God and keep his commandments.

Reading of "Mrs. Meyers"

Commentary

Mrs. Meyers offers her opinion regarding her husband's reputation and actions. Often other characters help fill out the character of those who have earlier given testimony to their own actions and worth.

First Movement: A Drama of Protest

He protested all his life long
The newspapers lied about him villainously;
That he was not at fault for Minerva’s fall,
But only tried to help her.

The first movement of "Mrs. Meyers" is a quatrain stanza and has Mrs. Meyer speaking directly about her husband. Without identifying him by name, she simply begins by stating their husband complained about his lot for his entire life. And the reader will remember that he did, indeed; his little drama’s raison d’être is to expound on the grounds for his complaint.

Mrs. Meyers reports more specifically about her husband’s protest; in his view, the newspapers reported falsely and viciously about the doctor. Of course, neither the doctor nor his wife offer any details regarding those reports. But her husband always contended that he was only trying to help the pregnant poetess, Minerva Jones, by aborting her baby.

Second Movement: The Crime of Murder

Poor soul so sunk in sin he could not see
That even trying to help her, as he called it,
He had broken the law human and divine.

After explaining Doctor Meyers’ position on his situation, Mrs. Meyers reveals her philosophical, religious view of his problem: she believes that he committed a crime by murdering that unborn child, and despite her sorrow and sympathy for him, she knows that those who commit such atrocities must be held accountable for breaking "the law human and divine."

Mrs. Meyers calls her husband a "poor soul," for he was obviously blind to his grave error. He spent his lifetime trying to justify his complicity in committing a sin that in no way can be justified.

Third Movement: The Tragedy of Poor Judgment

Passers by, an ancient admonition to you:
If your ways would be ways of pleasantness,
And all your pathways peace,
Love God and keep his commandments.

Finally, Mrs. Meyers offers a piece of advice to the "passers by" who might be listening to her account. She tells them that if they would live a tranquil and peaceful life, they must "Love God and keep his commandments."

Mrs. Meyers calls her advice "an ancient admonition," which gives its import the weight of truth. She had lived with a man who was basically a good soul but who allowed his good judgment to be averted in order to appease a foolish woman. Mrs. Meyers has lived with and observed the sorrow that results from failing to follow the ancient law of karma, of sowing and reaping.

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.

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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