November Poem--Scandals of a Small Town


Taken from the long anthology of small-town gossip Spoon River Anthology. One year I had the privilege of attending a regional Geological Society of America Convention held in Macomb Illinois at the University of Western Illinois. In passing through the state we stopped briefly at Dickson Mounds State park and drove by Edgar Lee Masters house in a nearby town. This was yet another enormous thrill for me. Nearly as exciting as the time when stumbling through Amish Country in Ohio, we happened upon Winesburg.

from Spoon River Anthology
Benjamin Pantier
Edgar Lee Masters

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!

And for good measure, Mrs. Pantier's side of the story

Mrs. Benjamin 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.

Absolutely unlovely, and yet a portrait too clear and true of some unfortunate and selfish souls.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 6, 2003 7:47 AM.

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