Edgar Lee Masters
I was sixteen, and I had the most terrible dreams,
And specks before my eyes, and nervous weakness.
And I couldn’t remember the books I read,
Like Frank Drummer who memorized page after page.
And my back was weak, and I worried and worried,
And I was embarrassed and stammered my lessons,
And when I stood up to recite I’d forget
Everything that I had studied.
Well, I saw Dr. Weese’s advertisement,
And there I read everything in print,
Just as if he had known me;
And about the dreams which I couldn’t help.
So I knew I was marked for an early grave.
And I worried until I had a cough,
And then the dreams stopped.
And then I slept the sleep without dreams
Here on the hill by the river.
On this day in 1914, Edgar Lee Masters (books by this author) published the first poem of what would later be published as The Spoon River Anthology (1915). Masters was a lawyer in Chicago when he began writing short poems about the townspeople of „Spoon River,“ a fictional place he based on his hometown of Lewiston, Illinois. Afraid that the people in Lewiston would take offense to his unflattering characterization, he published all 244 of his free-verse poems individually and then as a book under the pseudonym Webster Ford. It was an immediate commercial success. But the monologues were often cynical and showed the hypocrisies of small-town life, making Masters an outcast from the small towns where he grew up. He also hadn’t changed the last names of several characters, and many residents were outraged by his unflattering depictions of them. Still, The Spoon River Anthology became one of the best-selling books of poetry in American history. Remarking on the anthology, Ezra Pound said, „At last the American West has produced a poet strong enough to weather the climate, capable of dealing with life directly, without circumlocution, without resonant meaningless phrases.“