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Edgar Lee Masters' "George Trimble"

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



Edgar Lee Masters’ “George Trimble” from Spoon River Anthology features a failed politician, who blames his wife for goading him into throwing his hat into the ring.

The couple sounds like the antithesis of a Bill and Hillary Clinton; were it not for Bill’s political acumen and Hillary’s shrewd but obfuscatory parlance, Bill Clinton might have eventually lamented with George Trimble, “Well, she ruined me.”

Lying unnoticed, therefore unmourned, in his Spoon River grave, George Trimble considers himself a victim of his wife's nagging. George joins the long sad parade of characters who use their epitaphs to complain about victimhood.

Reading of "George Trimble"

First Movement: “Do you remember when I stood on the steps”

George Trimble begins his lamentation from the grave by posing a question to his Spoon River fellow citizens: he asks them if they remember a speech that he gave standing on the courthouse steps; in that speech, he “talked free-silver, / And the single-tax of Henry George.”

The references to “free silver” and “Henry George” demonstrate Trimble’s political positions: those who favored the Free Silver policies wanted to replace the gold standard with silver. And Henry George, who gained a reputation as an economist, believed the only land owners should be taxed.

Trimble does not imply a strong belief in any political position; thus, his lament becomes even more pathetic.

Second Movement: “Then do you remember that, when the Peerless Leader”

Without much political savvy or ideological conviction, Trimble, of course, loses the election. He ironically refers to himself as “the Peerless Leader” who “lost the first battle.”

After this loss, Trimble says he took up discussion of “prohibition,” and he joined the church, becoming an active member. The disparity between his actions and his paltry discourse shows a deeply conflicted psyche.

Third Movement: “That was due to my wife”

George Trimble now concedes that he has done those things because of his wife. She played on his sense of guilt by telling him he would court “destruction,” if he did not prove to people that he possessed “morality.”

George is revealing his weakness of character, because he let his wife goad him into trying to be that which he was not.

Sadly, the reader never learns what, if anything, George actually did accomplish. Many of the other grave-yard residents possess that same flaw; their opinion of themselves remains much higher than any of their neighbors could must in their favor.

Fourth Movement: “Well, she ruined me”

Finally, George levels his severe charge against his shrewish wife, declaring vehemently, “Well, she ruined me.” He never gains any political backing, because “the radical” became “suspicious of [him],” and “the conservatives were never sure of me.”

Now George Trimble lies in his grave and no one cares. By Spoon River standards, he has gotten off lightly.

At least, he does not seem to have suffered the severe trauma of living as the target of hatred, as some of the other residents have lamented.

Still, George blames his wife that he has died an unremarkable death. Blaming others is often the modus operandi of the grave speakers.

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


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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 12 months ago from U.S.A.

      Yes, Spoon River Anthology is definitely an American classic that deserves much more attention. Masters' contribution to the American literary canon remains a significant one; his fine craftsmanship renders that unique work well worth a close reading.

      Thank you for your response, Jamie. Have a blessed day! --lsg

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 12 months ago from Reno NV

      Thank you for bringing "Spoon River Anthology" to life. Edgar Lee Masters is really overlooked. Jamie