ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Edgar Lee Masters’ "The Hill"

Updated on January 26, 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

Edgar Lee Masters Stamp
Edgar Lee Masters Stamp | Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "The Hill"

Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology has become an American classic in poetry. It consists of 246 poems, three of which differ from the predominant form of the epitaph: #1 "The Hill" locates the graveyard and offers a brief overview of the nature of the characters who will be speaking; #245 "The Spooniad" is a play on Jonathan Swift's "The Dunciad," and offers a unifying piece to the disparate nature of the many idiosyncratic voices of the Spoon River cemetery deceased, and #246 "Epilogue" features several voices waxing philosophical about profound topics.

The bulk of the poems, the remaining 243 feature dramatic epitaphs spoken by the deceased, former residents of the fictional town, Spoon River. The speakers all reside on the hill cemetery from which they report their various current states of mind, based primarily on the lives they lived while they were citizens of Spoon River.

The poem, “The Hill,” opens the American classic and features seven free verse paragraphs (versagraphs). It offers an overview of some the characters who will be speaking later for themselves.

1. The Hill

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire,
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?—
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

Reading of "The Hill"

Commentary

First Versagraph: “Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley”

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "The Hill,” the speaker begins by asking, “Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,” adding a brief description of each man: “The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter.” He then answers his question, reporting that they are all dead; they are “all, all sleeping on the hill.”

Second Versagraph: “One passed in a fever”

The speaker continues his description of the men he has named; he tells something about each one's death: fever, burned to death, killed in a fight, in jail, which says where but not actually how, and falling from a bridge. Even though they all died under very different circumstances, some obviously more honorable than others, they “All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.” The repetition of “sleeping” drives home that fact that the speaker is using “sleeping” as a metaphor for “dead.”

Third Versagraph: “Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith”

The speaker turns next to five women, asking “Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,” and as with the men offering a brief descriptor of each: “The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one.”

Fourth Versagraph: “One died in shameful child-birth”

Again, as with the men, the speaker gives a bit more biographical information about the women, about how they died: giving birth, “thwarted love,” killed in a house of prostitution, “broken pride,” and one who died while living far away. Apparently, Ella, Kate, and Mag brought home the body of the one who died far away. And yet again, the women just as the men, “All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.”

Fifth Versagraph: “Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily”

The speaker continues to ask where certain folks are, “Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily, / And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton?” He wonders where is the old military man, “Major Walker who had talked / With venerable men of the revolution.” And again, he supplies the answer; they are “All, all, are sleeping on the hill.”

Sixth Versagraph: “They brought them dead sons from the war”

The speaker then reports that other dead that lie in the cemetery on the hill are the war dead: “They brought them dead sons from the war.” The imprecise “they” probably refers to authorities, perhaps military officers responsible for transporting the fallen soldiers back to their home for burial. But this indefinite “they” also brought home “daughters whom life had crushed.” And children were left “fatherless, crying.” Again, the speaker reports that they “All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.”

Seventh Versagraph: “Where is Old Fiddler Jones”

The speaker concludes his an overview of the cemetery’s inmates by asking about one final deceased man, a colorful character named, “Old Fiddler Jones.” This old fellow “played with life all his ninety years.” He was a rather selfish character who did not behave with consideration for his “wife nor kin.” He seemed to have no real interest, except for stirring up rowdiness at “fish-frys” and “horse-races,” and he liked to report “what Abe Lincoln said / One time at Springfield.”

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.

© 2015 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)