14. 15. Edgar Lee Masters’ "Benjamin Pantier" and "Mrs. Benjamin Pantier"
Edgar Lee Masters Stamp
Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
Masters' Spoon River Anthology has become an American classic
Reading of Masters' "Benjamin Pantier"
Reading of Masters' "Mrs. Benjamin Pantier"
Unbridled arrogance and overweening vanity have coupled to bring about the destruction of the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Pantier.
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.
First Movement: “Together in this grave lie Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law”
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”
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!”
Mrs. Benjamin Pantier
First Movement: “I know that he told that I snared his soul”
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”
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.”
The Pantier Sequence:
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes