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I loathed you, Spoon River. I tried to rise above you,
I was ashamed of you. I despised you
As the place of my nativity.
And there in Rome, among the artists,
Speaking Italian, speaking French,
I seemed to myself at times to be free
Of every trace of my origin.
I seemed to be reaching the heights of art
And to breathe the air that the masters breathed,
And to see the world with their eyes.
But still they’d pass my work and say:
“What are you driving at, my friend?
Sometimes the face looks like Apollo’s,
At others it has a trace of Lincoln’s.”
There was no culture, you know, in Spoon River,
And I burned with shame and held my peace.
And what could I do, all covered over
And weighted down with western soil,
Except aspire, and pray for another
Birth in the world, with all of Spoon River
Rooted out of my soul?
Public Domain. From Spoon River Anthology.
Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950), an attorney and author, is remembered for his masterpiece Spoon River Anthology (1915), a collection of poems modeled on the Greek Anthology. In Masters’ poems, the residents of the midwestern town of Spoon River speak from beyond the grave, often revealing lives of dishonesty and hypocrisy. Its unsentimental view of small town America influenced an entire generation of American writers, including Theodore Dreiser and Vachel Lindsay.