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Edgar Lee Masters' "Nicholas Bindle"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Introduction and Text of "Nicholas Bindle"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ “Nicholas Bindle” from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, the speaker is venting his outrage at the town’s citizenry for continuing to harass him for charitable offerings while his financial situation was not strong.

Nicholas also demonstrates his disgust that Deacon Rhodes was acquitted of bank fraud. This poem’s speaker begins with a question for his fellow citizens who, he feels, should be ashamed for their role in urging him to donate.

Nicholas' opening question reveals his own beliefs about the situation and therefore is rhetorical in nature. Of course, he wants them to feel shame as he is berating them. The speaker concludes his tirade also with a question that again reveals his own disgust at how unfairly he thinks he was treated.

Nicholas Bindle condenses his tirade into an eleven-line near-sonnet, which bellows his deep displeasure from the grave. Nicholas Bindle is one of the extremely unhappy deceased who use their epitaph to castigate their fellow citizens with sharp, critical words. Bindle expresses deep contempt for the citizens of Spoon River.

Nicholas Bindle

Were you not ashamed, fellow citizens,
When my estate was probated and everyone knew
How small a fortune I left?—
You who hounded me in life,
To give, give, give to the churches, to the poor,
To the village!—me who had already given much.
And think you not I did not know
That the pipe-organ, which I gave to the church,
Played its christening songs when Deacon Rhodes,
Who broke the bank and all but ruined me,
Worshipped for the first time after his acquittal?

Reading of "Nicholas Bindle"

Commentary

Nicholas Bindle is one of the many unhappy dead, who spit out unkind words at the citizens of Spoon River.

First Movement: Chiding for Charity

Were you not ashamed, fellow citizens,
When my estate was probated and everyone knew
How small a fortune I left?—

The speaker, Nicholas Bindle, chides his “fellow citizens” for begging him to give to charity. He needles them as he asked if they were “not ashamed” when they became aware that his estate was so meager.

After Nicholas' death, his estate was “probated” in the courts, and the size of his holdings would have been exposed. Of course, he is implying that his generosity in giving to charities has depleted his funds.

Of course, Nicholas knows that those citizens understand “how small a fortune [he] left” behind, and he wants to vent his anger and frustration over the issue.

Second Movement: Begging for More

You who hounded me in life,
To give, give, give to the churches, to the poor,
To the village!—me who had already given much.

Nicholas continues his rant, accusing the citizens of “hound[ing]” him to “give, give, give.” They constantly implored him to donate “to the churches, to the poor, / To the village!”

Indignantly, the speaker claims that he had “already give[n] much,” yet they continued to badger him for more. Nicholas wants to make sure his fellow citizens understand the deep frustration their pleading for charitable offerings has engendered in him.

Third Movement: Guilt That Goes Unpunished

And think you not I did not know
That the pipe-organ, which I gave to the church,
Played its christening songs when Deacon Rhodes,
Who broke the bank and all but ruined me,
Worshipped for the first time after his acquittal?

Finally, Nicholas does reveal that he actually did provide some bounty: he gave the church a pipe-organ. But instead of taking any comfort in his giving, he is outraged because “Deacon Rhodes” had been in attendance when the pipe-organ first “played its christening songs.” In an earlier poem, the reader learned about Deacon Rhodes, who won his acquittal through some legal chicanery. The unfairness of this situation rankles the frustrated Nicholas as he derides those who caused it to happen.

Although Nicholas does not allude to those specific circumstances, because he probably does not know the details, he is obsessed because Rhodes’ guilt went unpunished. Nicholas along with other citizens would have experienced financial hardship and even ruin because of old Thomas Rhodes breaking the bank. Nicholas expresses his outrage as he compares his own situation to those whom he believes bear guilt, while he is an innocent man hounded by the busy-body citizens of Spoon River.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

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.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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