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Edgar Lee Masters' "Benjamin Pantier" and "Mrs. Benjamin Pantier"

Updated on June 21, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

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," who was Reuben's teacher, and "Trainor, the Druggist," from whom readers learn more about the dynamic of the Reubens' 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"

While Benjamin Pantier does garner sympathy, he also demonstrates a weakness and failure to own at least part of his pathetic life path.

First Movement: Buried with His Dog

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: Marriage Blighted His Life

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 became the bane of his existence. His hatred of his marriage partner led him to a soul-sickness that he could never overcome.

Benjamin 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"

Trying to set the record straight, Mrs. Pantier further demonstrates the accuracy of her husband's complaint.

First Movement: Her Side of the Story

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: Her Obnoxious Arrogance

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.”

Mrs. Panatier 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, causing him to live only with his dog in his office.

The Pantier Sequence

The following poems comprise the Pantier sequence of themed epitaphs begun by Benjamin Pantier:

Benjamin Pantier
Mrs. Benjamin Pantier
Reuben Pantier
Emily Sparks
Trainor, the Druggist

Edgar Lee Masters

Source

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.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    15 months ago from U.S.A.

    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 

    15 months ago from Syracuse, New York

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

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