ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Edgar Lee Masters' "Francis Turner" and "Franklin Jones"

Updated on April 19, 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 "Francis Turner"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "Francis Turner" from Spoon River Anthology, the speaker is a pathetic little guy, who claims that suffering scarlet fever in childhood damaged his heart. Thus he finds ordinary activities challenging.

In death, Francis finds solace in a simple memory of an odd biological reaction to a stimulus. He does not reveal much about his life but his odd reaction indicates that as his body was ravaged by the disease, his mind remained quite limited as well.

Francis Turner

I could not run or play
In boyhood.
In manhood I could only sip the cup,
Not drink—
For scarlet-fever left my heart diseased.
Yet I lie here
Soothed by a secret none but Mary knows:
There is a garden of acacia,
Catalpa trees, and arbors sweet with vines—
There on that afternoon in June
By Mary’s side—
Kissing her with my soul upon my lips
It suddenly took flight.

Reading of "Francis Turner"

Commentary on "Francis Turner"

The speaker of this epitaph is a pathetic little guy.

First Movement: Couldn't Run, Couldn't Drink

I could not run or play
In boyhood.
In manhood I could only sip the cup,
Not drink—
For scarlet-fever left my heart diseased.

The speaker reports that as a boy he was unable to run and play as other children did. Then as a man, he could not "drink"—apparently he means alcohol but that is not clear; he could only "sip the cup." He then asserts that the reason for these malfunctions is that he suffered the disease called scarlet fever.

Second Movement: Comfort in a "Secret"

Yet I lie here
Soothed by a secret none but Mary knows:

Despite his malady which left him unable to function as a normal adult, Francis finds solace and comfort in a "secret" to which no one but "Mary" is privy.

Third Movement: Where the "Secret" Happened

There is a garden of acacia,
Catalpa trees, and arbors sweet with vines—
There on that afternoon in June
By Mary’s side—

Francis then describes the location where the secret took place. It was in a garden filled with flowers such as acacia, a flower that turns up quite frequently in poems and songs. The garden included catalpa trees and "arbors sweet with vines." It was in the month of June in the afternoon, and Mary was seated beside Francis.

Fourth Movement: Pathetic Little Guy

Kissing her with my soul upon my lips
It suddenly took flight.

In his final effusion, Francis demonstrates the depth of his naïveté. Francis and Mary kiss. And Francis now remembers that his soul was "upon [his] lips." His exaggeration merely indicates that it was a passionate kiss.

But Francis then remarks, "It suddenly took flight." It is difficult to interpret this claim as other than he experienced an erection, likely the first time in his life. This occurrence seems to have surprised Francis and delighted him so much that after death that is the chief memory he cares to indulge from his life.

Introduction and Text of "Franklin Jones"

Franklin Jones offers only a very small slice of his life, just a Francis has done. Franklin, however, does demonstrate a penchant for thought above the waist and somewhat more mature in his rhetorical flourish, though, he still remains a rather shallow character. Francis and Franklin thus remain similar in their rather light-weight views.

Franklin Jones

If I could have lived another year
I could have finished my flying machine,
And become rich and famous.
Hence it is fitting the workman
Who tried to chisel a dove for me
Made it look more like a chicken.
For what is it all but being hatched,
And running about the yard,
To the day of the block?
Save that a man has an angel’s brain,
And sees the ax from the first!

Reading of "Franklin Jones"

Commentary on "Franklin Jones"

At least Franklin Jones does demonstrate a penchant for thought above the waist.

First Movement: Could Have, If Only

If I could have lived another year
I could have finished my flying machine,
And become rich and famous.

Franklin Jones makes the odd claim that he could have completed his work on his "flying machine," if only he had been able to live one more year. Then he projects that he could have become "rich and famous."

Famous last words, indeed: if only something had happened or not happened, I could have done such and such, been such and such. But what happened happened, and here I am, not doing such and such, not being such and such. This very scenario from the beginning does not bode well for a result that will feature a well-rounded, pleasant character.

Second Movement: The Dove-Chicken

Hence it is fitting the workman
Who tried to chisel a dove for me
Made it look more like a chicken.
For what is it all but being hatched,
And running about the yard,
To the day of the block?
Save that a man has an angel’s brain,
And sees the ax from the first!

Franklin then reveals that the workers who tried to engrave a dove on his tombstone were less than accomplished artists because the dove ends up looking "more like a chicken." Franklin, however, does find an amused melancholy in the situation. He philosophizes that man is just like a chicken: after being "hatched," he just runs around the barnyard until the day he is hauled off the be chopped up on "the block."

But Franklin adds a twist to his rhetorical complaint—the difference between the man and the chicken is that the man knows ahead of time that he is destined to die. Despite the lofty sounding final sentiment, Franklin remains a rather shallow character, and almost as naïve as Francis.

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

No comments yet.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)