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Edgar Lee Masters' "Lois Spears"

Updated on May 17, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edgar Lee Masters

Source

Introduction and Text of "Lois Spears"

Edgar Lee Masters’ "Lois Spears" from Spoon River Anthology surprises readers with its simple purity. The many complaints from those who pursued lives on the seamy side and then tried to blame others for their misfortunes resonant with such volume that encountering a soul such as Lois provides a shock albeit a pleasant one. This poem features only three movements.

The first movement’s opening sounds as if a third party is reporting for Lois, but then it becomes clear that it is Lois speaking in the last parenthetical line. It is also important to note that the information in the parenthetical is deemphasized, though for the world it is of great moment. The second movement finds Lois proclaiming herself "the happiest of women," while the third and final movement reveals the reason for her height of happiness.

Lois Spears

Here lies the body of Lois Spears,
Born Lois Fluke, daughter of Willard Fluke,
Wife of Cyrus Spears,
Mother of Myrtle and Virgil Spears,
Children with clear eyes and sound limbs—
(I was born blind).
I was the happiest of women
As wife, mother and housekeeper,
Caring for my loved ones,
And making my home
A place of order and bounteous hospitality:
For I went about the rooms,
And about the garden
With an instinct as sure as sight,
As though there were eyes in my finger tips—
Glory to God in the highest.

Reading of "Lois Spears"

Commentary

Lois Spears will delight readers who have grown somewhat jaded with the jaded characters offered them in Masters’ Spoon River Anthology.

First Movement: Official Announcement

Here lies the body of Lois Spears,
Born Lois Fluke, daughter of Willard Fluke,
Wife of Cyrus Spears,
Mother of Myrtle and Virgil Spears,
Children with clear eyes and sound limbs—
(I was born blind).

Lois begins her report with a rather official sounding declaration, "Here lies the body of Lois Spears." She continues by identifying herself further with her maiden name, "Lois Fluke," and that she was the "daughter of Willard Fluke." The significance of her maiden name becomes apparent as the reader encounters the strange, delightful character she exhibits. She is, indeed, a fluke of nature, especially when found among the many disingenuous characters of Spoon River.

Lois further defines her identity by stating that she was the wife of "Cyrus Spears, / Mother of Myrtle and Virgil Spears." Her children, she is no doubt happy to report both had "clear eyes"—they were not born with the same affliction that their mother had endure. Her children furthermore were otherwise healthy with "sound limbs." It is only after Lois has revealed the rudimentary biographical facts that she imparts the crucial information that she "was born blind."

Second Movement: No Need for Pity

I was the happiest of women
As wife, mother and housekeeper,
Caring for my loved ones,
And making my home
A place of order and bounteous hospitality:

Lest her hearers begin to pity her, Lois immediately dispels the notion that she requires any by declaring herself, "the happiest of women." She was so happy because she cared for her "loved ones" and made her home "a place of order and bounteous hospitality." The magnanimity of such a remark offers solace to all who have struggled with positions that they deem beneath them—the lowly housewife, who was also blind, was able to function as the happiest of women simply by nurturing and making a home for her loved ones.

Third Movement: All Glory to God

For I went about the rooms,
And about the garden
With an instinct as sure as sight,
As though there were eyes in my finger tips—
Glory to God in the highest.

In the final movement, Lois proclaims that all glory belongs to "God in the highest." Lois was able to go about the rooms of her home and even grow a garden and claims she did so "with instinct as sure as sight." Lois Spears worked and achieved high accomplishments "[a]s though there were eyes in my finger tips." That Mrs. Spears praises the Divine for her happy fluke of a life lifts her capital to further heights. Mrs. Lois Spears takes her rank as one of the fine, pure souls who inhabited the otherwise carping village of Spoon River.

Life Sketch of Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters, (August 23, 1868 - March 5, 1950), authored some 39 books in addition to Spoon River Anthology, yet nothing in his canon ever gained the wide fame that the 243 reports of people speaking from the beyond the grave brought him. In addition to the individual reports, or "epitaphs," as Masters called them, the Anthology includes three other long poems that offer summaries or other material pertinent to the cemetery inmates or the atmosphere of the fictional town of Spoon River, #1 "The Hill,"#245 "The Spooniad," and #246 "Epilogue."

Edgar Lee Masters was born on August 23, 1868, in Garnett, Kansas; the Masters family soon relocated to Lewistown, Illinois. The fictional town of Spoon River constitutes a composite of Lewistown, where Masters grew up and Petersburg, IL, where his grandparents resided. While the town of Spoon River was a creation of Masters' doing, there is an Illinois river named "Spoon River," which is a tributary of the Illinois River in the west-central part of the state, running a 148-mile-long stretch between Peoria and Galesburg.

Masters briefly attended Knox College but had to drop out because of the family's finances. He went on to study law and later had a rather successful law practice, after being admitted to the bar in 1891. He later became a partner in the law office of Clarence Darrow, whose name spread far and wide because of the Scopes Trial—The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes—also jeeringly known as the "Monkey Trial."

Masters married Helen Jenkins in 1898, and the marriage brought Master nothing but heartache. In his memoir, Across Spoon River, the woman features heavily in his narrative without his ever mentioning her name; he refers to her only as the "Golden Aura," and he does not mean it in a good way.

Masters and the "Golden Aura" produced three children, but they divorced in 1923. He married Ellen Coyne in 1926, after having relocated to New York City. He stopped practicing law in order to devote more time to writing.

Masters was awarded the Poetry Society of America Award, the Academy Fellowship, the Shelley Memorial Award, and he was also the recipient of a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

On March 5, 1950, just five months shy of his 82 birthday, the poet died in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, in a nursing facility. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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