Edmund Pollard
Edgar Lee Masters

  
Edmund Pollard

I would I had thrust my hands of flesh
Into the disk-flowers bee-infested,
Into the mirror-like core of fire
Of the light of life, the sun of delight.
For what are anthers worth or petals
Or halo-rays? Mockeries, shadows
Of the heart of the flower, the central flame!
All is yours, young passer-by;
Enter the banquet room with the thought;
Don't sidle in as if you were doubtful
Whether you're welcome--the feast is yours!
Nor take but a little, refusing more
With a bashful "Thank you," when you're hungry.
Is your soul alive? Then let it feed!
Leave no balconies where you can climb;
Nor milk-white bosoms where you can rest;
Nor golden heads with pillows to share;
Nor wine cups while the wine is sweet;
Nor ecstasies of body or soul,
You will die, no doubt, but die while living
In depths of azure, rapt and mated,
Kissing the queen-bee, Life!

Edgar Lee Masters
from Spoon River Anthology


   

If you've never read the Spoon River Anthology, I'd recommend it.  In this work, Edgar Lee Masters has written a series of over a hundred poems just like the one above--explorations of just what people had in life that made them happy or miserable, of how they approached life and other people and their jobs, of how they reacted to other people's actions.

What sets this work apart from others is its focus--the poems are written from the perspectives of people whose names appear on the imaginary tombstones of the Spoon River cemetery.  They're all dead now, talking to us from beyond the grave, blaming their unhappy lives on other people or circumstances, pointing fingers at people who might have hurt them, revealing just what it was about their perspective that allowed them to be happy.  In each of the characters you can see traces of all the people who surround you, and sometimes it's uplifting, sometimes extremely sad to see how people lived their lives, often wasting away their days focusing on hatred or anger or resentment.

The question to ask yourself as you read it, of course, is simple:  am I on the road to end up feeling like this after I die?  Would my words from beyond the grave be words of regret and hostility, or will I be happy about what I've done, with no regrets and no hostility towards other people?

The Spoon River Anthology is available for just $1 from Dover Books--ask for the Dover Thrift Edition.  It's easy reading--don't try to read it all at one sitting.  Read a poem or three and think, feel, relate.  Notice the fascinating way that Masters shows the relationships between the people in town--the self-satisfaction of Thomas Rhodes, the miserable death of one of Rhodes' employees, who considered himself "Rhodes' slave."  It's a fascinating book, and a revealing look at what goes on in our minds as we go through life.  Most of all, look for those who have no regrets, who think more of their happiness than anything else.  There are lessons in the work for us all, if we just look for them.

  
   


 
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