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14. 15. Edgar Lee Masters’ "Benjamin Pantier" and "Mrs. Benjamin Pantier"

Updated on October 31, 2017
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 Stamp

Source

Introduction to the Pantier Sequence

Edgar Lee Masters’ “Benjamin Pantier” and “Mrs. Benjamin Pantier” from the Spoon River Anthology portray the complaint of a husband against his wife and the wife’s response.

These two poems begin a short sequence that includes installments from "Reuben Pantier," the couple's son, "Emily Sparks,"Reuben's teacher, and "Trainor, the Druggist," from whom readers learn more about the dynamic of the Reuben's marriage.

Text of Poem,"Benjamin Pantier"

14. Benjamin Pantier

Together in this grave lie Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law,
And Nig, his dog, constant companion, solace and friend.
Down the gray road, friends, children, men and women,
Passing one by one out of life, left me till I was alone
With Nig for partner, bed-fellow, comrade in drink.
In the morning of life I knew aspiration and saw glory.
Then she, who survives me, snared my soul
With a snare which bled me to death,
Till I, once strong of will, lay broken, indifferent,
Living with Nig in a room back of a dingy office.
Under my jaw-bone is snuggled the bony nose of Nig—
Our story is lost in silence. Go by, mad world!

Reading of Masters' "Benjamin Pantier"

Commentary on "Benjamin Pantier"

First Movement: “Together in this grave lie Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law”

Together in this grave lie Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law,
And Nig, his dog, constant companion, solace and friend.
Down the gray road, friends, children, men and women,
Passing one by one out of life, left me till I was alone
With Nig for partner, bed-fellow, comrade in drink.
In the morning of life I knew aspiration and saw glory.

The speaker is Benjamin Pantier, who announces that he now lies in his grave with his dog, named Nig, who became his “constant companion, solace and friend.” Benjamin had been an “attorney at law,” yet he now is filled with pity for himself as he describes his lonely lot.

Benjamin claims that early on his life showed great promise, “in the morning of life I knew aspiration and saw glory.” But now he emphasizes this lonely lot; “friends, children, men and women” all left his life “one by one” until he was left with no one but Nig “for partner.”

Second Movement: “Then she, who survives me, snared my soul”

Then she, who survives me, snared my soul
With a snare which bled me to death,
Till I, once strong of will, lay broken, indifferent,
Living with Nig in a room back of a dingy office.
Under my jaw-bone is snuggled the bony nose of Nig—
Our story is lost in silence. Go by, mad world!

Benjamin’s life looked bright until he married a woman who “snared [his] soul” and “bled [him] to death.” He, who had once been “strong of will” finally ended up “broken, indifferent, / Living with Nig in a room back of a dingy office.”

He now lies in the same grave with his trusty canine friend’s “bony nose” “snuggled under his “jaw-bone.” He complains bitterly; “our story is lost in silence. Go by, mad world!” This sentiment of Benjamin’s dramatic final command echoes W. B. Yeats’ “Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, pass by!”

Text of Poem, "Mrs. Benjamin Pantier"

15. Mrs. Bejnamin Pantier

I know that he told that I snared his soul
With a snare which bled him to death.
And all the men loved him,
And most of the women pitied him.
But suppose you are really a lady, and have delicate tastes,
And loathe the smell of whiskey and onions.
And the rhythm of Wordsworth’s “Ode” runs in your ears,
While he goes about from morning till night
Repeating bits of that common thing;
“Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”
And then, suppose:
You are a woman well endowed,
And the only man with whom the law and morality
Permit you to have the marital relation
Is the very man that fills you with disgust
Every time you think of it—while you think of it
Every time you see him?
That’s why I drove him away from home
To live with his dog in a dingy room
Back of his office.

Reading of Masters' "Mrs. Benjamin Pantier"

Commentary on "Mrs. Benjamin Pantier"

First Movement: “I know that he told that I snared his soul”

I know that he told that I snared his soul
With a snare which bled him to death.
And all the men loved him,
And most of the women pitied him.

Mrs. Pantier begins her rebuttal to her husband’s accusation by stating that she knows what he has said about her bleeding “him to death.” She states the issue in such a way that the reader knows immediately that she wants to share her side of the story and that it will surely not coincide with what Mr. Pantier has said.

Mrs. Pantier then states categorically, “all the men loved him / And most of the women pitied him,” a remark that does not comport with Mr. Pantier’s claim that he was left alone. At this point, the reader will probably doubt Mr. Pantier’s assertion.

Second Movement: “But suppose you are really a lady, and have delicate tastes”

But suppose you are really a lady, and have delicate tastes,
And loathe the smell of whiskey and onions.
And the rhythm of Wordsworth’s “Ode” runs in your ears,
While he goes about from morning till night
Repeating bits of that common thing;
“Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”
And then, suppose:
You are a woman well endowed,
And the only man with whom the law and morality
Permit you to have the marital relation
Is the very man that fills you with disgust
Every time you think of it—while you think of it
Every time you see him?
That’s why I drove him away from home
To live with his dog in a dingy room
Back of his office.

However, after Mrs. Pantier begins her defense, the reader understands the self-importance of this woman. Her paltry defense for driving her husband from his home is that she fancies herself “a lady” with “delicate tastes.”

She hears strains of Wordsworth‘s “Ode” ringing in her ears, while her husband “goes about from morning till night” quoting lines from Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem, “Mortality” by William Knox. For Mrs. Pantier, the British Wordsworth signals gentility and the upper-class befitting a lady, while the American Knox implies low-class individualism and struggle for a living.

Even more gratingly obnoxious is that Mrs. Pantier fancies herself “well endowed,” but legally and morally, she can indulge her well-endowed body only with a man she finds disgusting. Thus, because of her vanity and arrogance, she feels justified in driving him from his home, “To live with his dog in a dingy room / Back of his office.”

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
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    Linda Sue Grimes 3 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

    Thank you, Keuka Fields, for your response. It is always interesting to learn how what I write affects others. Have a blessed day!

  • Keuka M Fields Sr profile image

    Keuka Fields 3 months ago from Syracuse, New York

    I love how you break things down even with a side of humor