Spoon River Revisited

Spoon River Revisited

Spoon River Revisited

Spoon River Revisited

Excerpt

When Benjamin De Casseres wrote of Spoon River Anthology, "I do not know of any poetic fiction that gives me such an odor of reality, such a raw, rank taste of broken hearts and battered brains, such a sense of inexorable fatality,"1 he caught much of the essence of Edgar Lee Masters' most famous book, and he also suggested some of the factors which made Spoon River Anthology so startling at the time of its publication.

At the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, American poetry was characterized by a weak and imitative Victorianism.2 American poets echoed Tennyson, Swinburne, Dobson, and others, but their imitations did not rise to the level of their models. Although William Vaughn Moody and Edwin Arlington Robinson were writing some excellent poetry, much American verse was undistinguished. The public was not particularly interested in poetry and confined its reading to the classics and to "pretty" poems. However, at least as early as 1912, a new movement began when Harriet Monroe founded and became first editor of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. By the time that Edgar Lee Masters began to write the "new" poetry, others had already gained prominence in the poetry revival Amy Lowell's A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass ( 1912) contained her first imagist pieces. Vachel Lindsay gained sudden fame with General William Booth Enters into Heaven ( 1913). In England, an American poet, Robert Frost, published A Boy's Will ( 1913). Meanwhile, Carl Sandburg and others published free verse poems in Poetry. But no other book of poetry achieved the phenomenal success of Masters' Spoon River Anthology. No other became a best-seller in the present sense of the word. No other created nation-wide, in fact, international, controversy. And few books have arrived at a more opportune time. In 1914 America evinced perhaps an unusually high degree of complacency, materialism, and narrow morality. Spoon River Anthology gave a much-needed shock to a large portion of the American reading public. Many read the book, and many others heard about it and argued about it from hearsay. Forty-eight years later it is almost impossible to imagine the impact with which it arrived on the American scene.

Immediately after the publication of Spoon River Anthology in 1915, it became "the most read and most talked-of volume of poetry that had ever . . .

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