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Edgar Lee Masters' "Homer Clapp"

Updated on April 4, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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 Poem, "Homer Clapp"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ epitaph titled “Homer Clapp” from Spoon River Anthology, the character laments an existence which resulted in his considering himself one of “Life’s fools.”

Masters' epitaph, “Homer Clapp,” is the third in the series beginning with “Aner Clute” and followed by "Lucius Atherton"; Homer is a sorry character, who complains that he was played for fool by Aner Clute.

Often Aner Clute at the gate
Refused me the parting kiss,
Saying we should be engaged before that;
And just with a distant clasp of the hand
She bade me good-night, as I brought her home
From the skating rink or the revival.
No sooner did my departing footsteps die away
Than Lucius Atherton,
(So I learned when Aner went to Peoria)
Stole in at her window, or took her riding
Behind his spanking team of bays
Into the country.
The shock of it made me settle down,
And I put all the money I got from my father’s estate
Into the canning factory, to get the job
Of head accountant, and lost it all.
And then I knew I was one of Life’s fools,
Whom only death would treat as the equal
Of other men, making me feel like a man.

Reading of "Homer Clapp"

Commentary

First Movement: A Ridiculous Spectacle

Often Aner Clute at the gate
Refused me the parting kiss,
Saying we should be engaged before that;
And just with a distant clasp of the hand
She bade me good-night, as I brought her home
From the skating rink or the revival.

The character, “Homer Clapp,” is sad man, whose association with Aner Clute, the prostitute, left him degraded and beaten. Aner had claimed that she began her life as a hooker because of being rebuffed by Lucius Atherton.

Later, however, Aner recants her story and claims ridiculously that she started living the life because of the way society views prostitutes—kind of like the way society views a boy who steals apples from a grocery store.

Homer commences his pathetic story, “at the gate” with Aner Clute refusing to kiss him goodnight. She always refused to give him a good-bye kiss after he had taken her on a date either to “the skating rink" or "the revival.”

Aner would extend to him only a “distant clasp of the hand,” remarking that before she would permit him to kiss her, they would have to have become "engaged" to be married.

This ridiculous spectacle shows clearly Aner's disingenuous nature and dramatizes her behavior which is full of deceit, making her resemble so many of the other dissembling Spoon River characters.

Second Movement: Town Gossip

No sooner did my departing footsteps die away
Than Lucius Atherton,
(So I learned when Aner went to Peoria)
Stole in at her window, or took her riding
Behind his spanking team of bays
Into the country.

Homer then appears to be providing town gossip as he claims that after he would leave Aner at the gate, Lucius Atherton would come sneaking in at Aner’s window. The two would then go “her riding / Behind his spanking team of bays.”

The window sneaking sounds like an over-dramatic claim. It remains somewhat vague and a shaky notion that Lucius would need to sneak in to take Aner for a ride.

However, Homer does report that he found out about Aner’s deceptive behavior only after she had relocated to Peoria. The timeline seems to impart the idea that Aner had actually moved to Peoria for the purpose of becoming a prostitute.

Aner, however, had concocted her narrative about being jilted by Atherton before she moved from Spoon River. It seems that Homer had heard about this claim of Aner's only after she had left Spoon River for Peoria.

Homer’s bit of gossip that Atherton owned "a spanking team of bays” might hint that Atherton had, in fact, been considered a “rich man” by Aner and other Spoon River residents who were less well off than Atherton was.

Third Movement: No Kiss Until Engaged

The shock of it made me settle down,
And I put all the money I got from my father’s estate
Into the canning factory, to get the job
Of head accountant, and lost it all.

Homer’s story turns out to be that because of Aner's deception of dating Homer while leading him on and demanding that they be engaged before a kiss, and at the same time fooling around with Lucius, Homer experienced "shock."

That shock caused Homer to sink his inheritance into the canning factory. and after placing all that money into the canning factory in order “to get the job / Of head accountant,” Homer “lost it all.”

Apparently, Homer lost his job along with his money as well as any chance for marital happiness. However, Homer remains quite vague at this point and does not make clear what he means when he says he lost "it all."

Fourth Movement: Just a Fool

And then I knew I was one of Life’s fools,
Whom only death would treat as the equal
Of other men, making me feel like a man.

Homer complains that his experiences in life, especially the Aner situation and loss of his money have convinced him that “[he] was one of Life’s fools.”

Homer considers himself the type of fool that, “only death would treat as the equal / Of other men.” Therefore, because death will come to all men equally, Homer can “feel like a man,” with the knowledge that death would definitely arrive for him just it will do for all other men.

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

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    11 months ago from U.S.A.

    Good point, Mark! Although I do believe Masters did expect readers to be amazed at the depravity of many of those speakers.

  • Mark Tulin profile image

    Mark Tulin 

    15 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

    Love the characters in this anthology. Vulnerable and all too human.

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