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Edgar Lee Masters' "Trainor the Druggist"

Updated on January 26, 2018
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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 Commemorative Stamp

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Trainor the Druggist"

Edgar Lee Masters’ "Trainor, the Druggist" from Spoon River Anthology offers a final installment covering the pitiful story of the Pantiers: Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Pantier and their son, Reuben.

Trainor, the chemist/druggist, dramatizes his take on the Pantiers' marriage as he philosophizes about how chemicals and personalities may combine to produce results unlike either of the components.

Trainor the Druggist

Only the chemist can tell, and not always the chemist,
What will result from compounding
Fluids or solids.
And who can tell
How men and women will interact
On each other, or what children will result?
There were Benjamin Pantier and his wife,
Good in themselves, but evil toward each other:
He oxygen, she hydrogen,
Their son, a devastating fire.
I Trainor, the druggist, a mixer of chemicals,
Killed while making an experiment,
Lived unwedded.

Reading of "Trainor the Druggist"

Commentary

First Movement: Begins by Contradicting Himself

Only the chemist can tell, and not always the chemist,
What will result from compounding
Fluids or solids.

Trainor begins by remarking and somewhat contradicting himself about what a chemist can know. He first states that "only" a chemist can know the results of combining certain substances, but he quickly adds that not even a chemist can "always" know the result of "compounding / Fluids and solids."

By using the substances "fluids and solids," Trainor avoids sounding overly esoteric and confusing in his statement, although later he settles on the use of "oxygen" and "hydrogen" to express the natures of the Pantiers.

Second Movement: Who? Indeed!

And who can tell
How men and women will interact
On each other, or what children will result?

Trainor then asks a rhetorical question, wondering who can ever predict how a certain man and a certain woman might react to their relationship. He also wonders, "what children will result?"

Of course, no one can know how any given couple will eventually grow in a relationship, and the possibilities are endless, as are the possibilities of the kinds of children that might spring from any given relationship. The chemist can know how certain chemicals will react with each, but even the chemist will have to admit that many combinations have yet to be tried.

Third Movement: The Pantiers

There were Benjamin Pantier and his wife,
Good in themselves, but evil toward each other:
He oxygen, she hydrogen,
Their son, a devastating fire.

In the third movement, Trainor focuses on the Pantiers, concluding that each was "good in themselves." But when they were bound in a relationship, they were "evil toward each other."

Trainor then likens Benjamin to "oxygen," while Mrs. Benjamin was like "hydrogen." But the combination was, unfortunately, not in a useful proportion that would result, for example, in water; it was some combination that produces "fire." Trainor says, "Their son, a devastating fire."

Fourth Movement: Trainor, Somewhat Ditzy

I Trainor, the druggist, a mixer of chemicals,
Killed while making an experiment,
Lived unwedded.

In the final movement, the reader learns that Trainor was killed while "making an experiment." As a "mixer of chemicals," Trainor turns out to be incompetent, but he reports that he "lived unwedded," which, to Trainor’s way of thinking, gives him at least a measure of pride of achievement.

Of course, the reader will remember that Reuben Pantier turned his life around and was able to extinguish the "devastating fire" in himself—an eventuality that also underscores the incompetence of the druggist.

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

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