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Western Dlinois Poets 

. by John E. Hallwas 



The Western Illinois Poets 

The Early Poetry 


Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, 

and Carl Sandburg 

Edited by 
John E. Hallwas 

April 1975 Series in the Humanities, No. 3 
Western Illinois University - Macomb 

Copyright© 1975 by Western Illinois University 

Poems by Vachel Lindsay are reprinted from his Collected Poems by 
permission of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.: "A Gospel of Beauty" and 
"General William Booth Enters into Heaven," copyright 1913 by Macmillan 
Publishing Co., Inc.; "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight" and "The Congo," 
copyright 1914 by Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., renewed 1942 by Elizabeth 
C. Lindsay; "The Eagle That is Forgotten," copyright 1923 by Macmillan 
Publishing Co., Inc., renewed 1951 by Elizabeth C. Lindsay. 

Poems by Edgar Lee Masters are reprinted from his Spoon River 
Anthology by permission of Mrs. Ellen C. Masters; copyright 1915, 1916 by 
Edgar Lee Masters, renewed 1942, 1944 by Edgar Lee Masters. 

Poems by Carl Sandburg are reprinted from his volume The Complete 
Poems of Carl Sandburg by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.; 
copyright 1916 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.; copyright 1944 by Carl 


Dennis Reader 

who has worked to establish 

the W.I.U. Center for Regional Authors 

and my wife, Garnette, 
who enjoys these poets as much as I do. 


It is curious that the first three poets of national reputation which Illinois 
produced (and the only ones to come from outside the Chicago area) were 
similar in so many ways. Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl 
Sandburg were raised in the west-central region of Illinois, migrated to 
Chicago around the turn of the century, knew one another quite well, rose to 
fame while World War I was being fought, displayed an interest in reforming 
American society, produced some of the most striking and original poetry in 
American literary history, and subsequently underwent a decline in critical 
reputation. In spite of the obvious parallels between them, no anthology has 
ever been devoted to these three remarkable writers. 

For the opportunity to edit this small volume — a period anthology which 
presents some of the most widely-acclaimed poetry in America during the peak 
of the Chicago Renaissance, and a regional anthology devoted to the only poets 
of importance from western Illinois— I would like to thank Dr. Leslie Malpass, 
President of Western Illinois University, and Ms. Beth Rochefort, Director of 
University Publications. 

It is my hope that The Western Illinois Poets will provide an impetus 
toward the rediscovery of Lindsay, Masters, and Sandburg by the reading 
public, and the eve of our country's bicentennial is an ideal time for us to renew 
our acquaintance with these three great poets of the American landscape, 
character, and spirit. 

Macomb, Illinois J.E.H. 

January, 1975 




A Gospel of Beauty: 19 

I. The Proud Farmer 19 

II. The Illinois Village 20 

III. On the Building of Springfield 21 

The Eagle That Is Forgotten 23 

General William Booth Enters into Heaven 24 

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight 26 

The Congo 27 


Anne Rutledge 34 

Minerva Jones 34 

"Indignation" Jones 35 

Jonathan Houghton 36 

Schroeder the Fisherman 37 

Fiddler Jones 38 

Rebecca Wasson 39 

Lucinda Matlock 40 

Aaron Hatfield 41 

Petit, the Poet 42 


Chicago 44 

They Will Say 45 

Mamie 45 

Population Drifts 46 

Mag 46 

Dynamiter 47 

Ice Handler 47 

Jack 48 

Fish Crier 48 

Gone 49 

A Teamster's Farewell 49 

Skyscraper 50 

I am the People, the Mob 51 




Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg were the 
main poets of the Chicago Renaissance, a remarkable development in modern 
American literature which also produced three notable fiction writers, 
Sherwood Anderson, Floyd Dell, and Theodore Dreiser. Anderson was from 
Ohio, Dreiser from Indiana, and the others were from west-central Illinois. 
F]ach of the three poets had his own kind of spectacular success, suddenly 
coming to the attention of the American public during the second decade of the 
century. The works which they published during this period amounted to a 
revolution in American poetry. 

When Lindsay, Masters, and Sandburg arrived on the national literary 
scene— in 1913-14, 1915, and 1916 respectively— more talented poets like 
Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot were 
only beginning to publish their work and had not yet made an impact. Hence, 
the three poets from western Illinois stood out as stunning and original voices 
at a time when the most visible American poetry was refined, elegant, and 
conventional— in a word, genteel. Masters himself wrote hundreds of poems 
of this kind before turning to the free verse monologue for Spoon River 
Anthology, and a stanza from one of them will illustrate the nature of poetry in 
the genteel tradition: 

When under the icy eaves 

The swallow heralds the sun. 
And the dove for its lost mate grieves 
And the young lambs play and run; 
When the sea is a plane of glass, 

And the blustering winds are still, 
And the strength of the snows pass 

In mists o'er the tawny hill — 
The spirit of life awakes 
In the fresh flags by the lakes. ^ 

^A Book of Verses (Chicago: Way and Williams, 1898), p. 30. This 
particular stanza was singled out by Amy Lowell as "an epitome of the 
magazine verse of the eighties," being full of "all the old cliches," in 
Tendencies in Modem American Poetry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917), p. 

When one realizes that verse like this was the standard fare for the 
poetry-reading public in America at the turn of the century, he can begin to 
understand the excitement which greeted the appearance of the early volumes 
by the Chicago Renaissance group. Masters' Spoon River Anthology laid bare 
the inner life of small-town America in energetic free verse monologues which 
were, for this period, often devastatingly frank: "I thirsted so for love!/ I 
hungered so for life!" Sandburg found the strikingly original material for his 
Chicago Poems in the brutal and dehumanizing world of the big city, and he 
expressed this new reality in long, running lines which many said were not 
poetry at all: "And they tell me you [Chicago] are crooked and I answer: Yes, it 
is true I have/ seen the gunmen kill and go free to kill again." And Vachel 
Lindsay found both his most important sources and his inspiration in American 
history, culture, and ideals, which he often forged into poetry of unusual and 
powerful rhythms: "Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay. Boom/ A roaring, epic, 
rag-time tune." 

All three poets underwent a decline in critical reputation as the literary 
scene in America became studded with dozens of other poets of significance, 
but to those who realize the originality of their achievements and their impact 
during the second decade of the century, Lindsay, Masters, and Sandburg will 
retain positions of importance in American literary history. With this in mind, 
only the period of 1913-1916 is covered by The Western Elinois Poets 
collection. This was the poetic peak of the Chicago Renaissance, which saw the 
publication of not only those two shocking books. Spoon River Anthology 
(1915) and Chicago Poems (1916), but also the two most famous volumes by 
Vachel Lindsay: General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems 
(1913) and The Congo and Other Poems (1914). 


In spite of the evident differences in the poetry of these three men, 
they share some important influences, the most pervasive of which is their 
western Illinois background. Growing up in the prairie towns of late 
nineteenth-century Illinois gave each of them a love for the midwestern 
landscape, and interest in Lincoln, and a respect for the American heritage. In 
the achievements of all three poets these concerns are interrelated. 

For Vachel Lindsay, midwestern culture represented the hope that 
American society might realize its greatest potential, as he indicated in the 
three poems which form "A Gospel of Beauty." That he identifies the pioneer 
spirit and essential American values with the prairie landscape is especially 
evident in the first section, "The Proud Farmer": 

For forty years he preached and plowed and wrought— 
A statesman in the fields, who bent to none. 


Likewise, that the prairie towns offer a "higher hope" for mankind, an 
opportunity to develop a model social structure, is explicitly indicated in the 
second poem, "The Illinois Village," and the job of building this ideal American 
culture is described in the third poem, "On the Building of Springfield," where 
he asserts that "We must have many Lincoln-hearted men." The American 
heritage, the midwestern landscape, and Lincoln: these three elements are 
essential to Lindsay's poetic vision, and they can be found in a number of his 
finest poems, such as "Our Mother Pocahontas," "The Ghosts of the 
Buffaloes," and "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight." But perhaps the only 
other place in which these aspects of his midwestern background are found so 
closely integrated is in the following stanza from his "Litany of the Heroes": 

Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all. 
That which is gendered in the wilderness 
From lonely prairies and God's tenderness. 
Imperial soul, star of a weedy stream. 
Born where the ghosts of buffaloes still gleam, 
Whose spirit hoof-beats storm above his g^ave, 
Above that breast of earth and prairie fire- 
Fire that freed the slave. ^ 

Also noticeable in this passage (in line three) is another important influence on 
Lindsay's poetry, and one which is not entirely separate from his love of 
country: his Christian belief. 

Edgar Lee Masters wrote more poetry about Illinois than about anything 
else. His Rlinois Poems (1941) and Along the Illinois (1942) are devoted 
entirely to lyric descriptions of the prairies, rivers, towns, people, and wildlife 
of his native state, and The Great Valley (1917) also contains many poems on 
Illinois people and places. This is not to mention Spoon River Anthology and 
The New Spoon River (1924), which present life in an imaginary Illinois village 
(from the perspective of those already dead), and The Domesday Book (1920) 
and The Fate of the Jury (1929), dramatic poems which present an Illinois 
coroner's inquisition and its aftermath. Masters' landscape poems simply 
describe, celebrate, or memorialize various aspects of the Illinois scene— from 
"Chicago" to "Bernadotte," from "Municipal Pier" to the "Shipley Corn-Crib" 
— with the locations of his youth receiving the most frequent attention. 
However, the poems devoted to people have a greater variation in purpose and 
are more analytical. They are predominantly monolgues which reveal the 
values and motivations of the speakers. 

^Collected Poems, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 192. 


Unlike Lindsay, Masters did not see Lincoln as an expression of the pioneer 
spirit and democratic values. In "New Salem Hill" he indicates that the village 
of New Salem has great meaning for the American consciousness, but not 
because of Lincoln: 

This Hill is loved, by history is revered 
Because America sees its happiest strains 
Of a people new, who briefly here appeared. 
Simple and virile, joyous, brave and free. 
Kindly, industrious, full of hardihood, 
And happy in a sylvan democracy, 
And purged of Old World blood. 

Later in the poem he asserts that "love for Lincoln is disguised/ Love for New 
Salem eternalized" (p. 30). Masters was especially critical of Lincoln because 
he denied the sovereignty of the states and favored, the poet thought, big 
corporations, banks, and trusts. His study, Lincoln, the Man (1931), is a very 
negative assessment of the sixteenth president. 

As the quotation above suggests. Masters' respect for the American 
heritage grew out of his love for the Illinois soil and the people who settled on 
it. This fact is also evident in a number of the Spoon River Anthology poems, 
especially "Lucinda Matlock" (based on the life of his grandmother), "Aaron 
Hatfield" (based on the life of his grandfather), and "Rebecca Wasson" (based 
on the life of his great-g^eat-grandmother). In other poems his discussion of 
the American heritage is infused with imagery derived from the Illinois 
landscape, as in these lines from "Give Us Back Our Country": 

But let the vision of this land appear; 

Let duty to the heritage that is ours 

Come to the minds of leaders: then the people. 

Waiting like winter fields for April time. 

Will rise and shake their banners like the corn.^ 

This concept of duty to the American heritage, to America's vision of itself and 
its destiny, is the central theme of Masters' long narrative poem on American 
history, The New World (1937). 

Sandburg's western Illinois background also had a large influence on his 
poetry. His second book of poems, Comhuskers (1918), expresses the 
landscape and life of the midwestern prairie almost as effectively as his first 
volume expresses the world of the big city. In the longest poem in the volume, 
"Prairie," the landscape speaks with its own voice: 

^Invisible Landscapes (New York: Macmillan, 1935), p. 28. 
4lbid., p. 151. 


I am the prairie, mother of men, waiting. 

They are mine, the threshing crews eating beefsteak, the 

farmboys driving steers to the railroad cattle pens. 
They are mine, the crowds of people at a Fourth of July 

basket picnic, listening to a lawyer read the Declaration 

of Independence, watching the pinwheels and Roman candles 

at night, the young men and women two by two hunting 

the bypaths and kissing-bridges. 
They are mine, the horses looking over a fence in the frost 

of late October saying good morning to the horses 

hauling wagons of rutabaga to market. 
They are mine, the old zigzag rail fences, the new barbwire.^ 

Later poems, especially in Good Morning, America (1928), also reflect the 
poet's sensitivity to the rural midwestern landscape. It is against this agrarian 
tradition that many of the lyrics in Chicago Poems should be read, expressing 
as they do the American character and spirit when removed from the salutary 
influences of the countryside and placed in a brutal and impersonal 
environment. The poem called "Population Drifts" is particularly interesting 
because it contrasts the effects of country and city surroundings on the human 

Aside from this, it should be noted that Sandburg is as famous for his 
3,300-page Lincoln biography, ^6raAawLmco^w; The Prairie Years (1926) and 
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), as for his poetry. The first part — in 
two volumes— is undoubtedly his finest expression of the American landscape, 
and in it Lincoln appears as an apotheosis of the American soil, the pioneer 
spirit, and the democratic tradition. 

Other influences that touched all three of the western Illinois poets include 
the democratic idealism of William Jennings Bryan and the poetry of Walt 
Whitman, but no other aspect of their lives had such a profound effect upon 
their work as did their Illinois background. 


The western Illinois poets were very concerned about the condition of 
American society, but each of them approached this subject in a different way. 
Lindsay tried to improve the country by improving the character of the 
individual; Sandburg celebrated the people as a collective unit— working, 
struggling, building the future— and Masters analyzed American society 
through the microcosm of the small town. 

^Complete Poems (New York: Harcourt, 1950), p. 83. 


Lindsay wrote a number of poems that focus on American leaders and 
cultural heroes in order to present those figures for the rest of society to 
admire and imitate. Hence, in poems like "Our Mother Pocahontas," "The 
Statue of Old Andrew Jackson," "In Praise of Johnny Appleseed," "Abraham 
Lincoln Walks at Midnight," "Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan," and "Roosevelt," 
he wanted the reader to revere Pocahontas for her natural innocence, Jackson 
for his love of freedom, Johnny Appleseed for his vision of America's future, 
Lincoln for his compassion, Bryan for his moral earnestness, and Roosevelt for 
his honesty. It was the poet's intention to foster the increase of such qualities 
in the American character so as to cause an improvement in society as a whole. 
Probably the most explicit indication of this poetic purpose is found in the 
"Litany of the Heroes," where Lindsay continually refers to the hope that his 
stanzas about various heroes of the world might inspire others to be like them: 
"Would I might rouse the Caesar in you all," "Would I might free St. Paul, 
singing in chains/ In your deep hearts," "Would I might wake St. Francis in 
you all," and so forth." When his poetry is considered from this point of view, 
Lindsay's "The Proud Farmer" emerges as a very important piece of work. It 
offers an example of the kind of individual who was needed to build a great 
society, presenting his own grandfather as a self-sufficient farmer and a 
pioneer in the traditions of Jefferson and Jackson. 

Sandburg was impressed with the greatness of the American people as a 
collective unit, especially the common man. Thus his poems about people focus 
continually on the farmer or worker, rather than the leader. His longest poem. 
The People, Yes (1936), is basically an extended evocation— and celebration— 
of the American character: 

The people will live on. 
The learning and blundering people will live on. 

They will be tricked and sold and again sold 
And so back to the nourishing earth for rootholds. 

The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback. 

You can't laugh off their capacity to take it. 
The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas. ' 

Because he did focus on the common man, Sandburg also expressed the 
brutality, frustration, and loneliness that are by-products of the struggle to 
survive and succeed in American society. This is especially evident in Chicago 
Poems. The only national leader who receives more than a mention in 
Sandburg's poetry is Lincoln, to whom the poet even devoted a section 
(number 57) of The People, Yes. There is little doubt that it was Lincoln's 
common background, love of democracy, and compassion for the American 
people that endeared him to the poet. For Sandburg, to understand Lincoln 
was to understand much about the people of America. 

^Collected Poems, pp. 189-90. 
^Complete Poems, p. 615. 


In his two most famous volumes of poetry, Spoon River Anthology and The 
New Spoon River, Masters analyzed American society by having the deceased 
residents of a small town discuss their lives. As Emerson Rush says in his 
epitaph, "the people of America/ Are just the people of Spoon River."" 
Whereas in Lindsay's poems the figures reflect the poet's own values (because 
they are his heroes) and in Sandburg's poems the characters are often 
generalized so as to achieve a broader social relevance (as in "Trafficker," 
"Nigger," and others in Chicago Poems), the focus of attention in Masters' 
poems is the unique individual. The speakers who characterize themselves in 
the monologues of the Spoon River volumes must be understood in terms of 
their own struggles and motivations, and because the monologues are epitaphs 
there is more frankness and insight than one could have expected from people 
who were still aHve. For example, the closing lines of "Minerva Jones," "I 
thirsted so for love!/ I hungered so for life!" express a realization that could 
only have been achieved and voiced after deatkiif the speaker. Because of this 
technique. Masters is able to present a very probing analysis of the small town 
as a microcosm of American society. 

Although they approached the subject in unique ways, the western Illinois 
poets are linked together by the attention which they paid to the condition of 
American society. It is this aspect of their poetry more than anything else that 
has guaranteed them a place of significance in the history of American 


The poetry of Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg has 
been more successful in performance than that of any other group of American 
poets. By reading poems Hke "General Booth," "The Congo," and "The Santa 
Fe Trail," Lindsay brought to his audiences what he called the "higher 
vaudeville." He read— or chanted— these poems with broad gestures and great 
vocal variations, and he often involved his listeners in the performance: "he 
worked them up, led them row against row, aisle against aisle, the floor 
against the balcony."^ He toured the country giving performances form 1914 
until the year of his death. Sandburg began reciting his poetry to the public in 
1920, and he continued the practice for decades. He usually included folk songs 
in the program as well. His readings helped to make him the folk hero that he 
became in later years. Masters, on the other hand, did not give public 
recitations of his poetry. However, his Spoon River Anthology has become a 
standard work for oral interpretation productions in colleges and secondary 

^The New Spoon River (1924; rpt. New York: Macmillan, 1968), p. 25. 
^Eleanor Ruggles, The West-Going Heart: A Life of Vachel Lindsay (New 
York: Norton, 1959), p. 243. 


The reasons for this success in performance are not difficult to determine: 
1) the ability of Masters and Sandburg to capture the rhj^thms of American 
speech in their free verse, 2) the extensive use of monologues by Masters, and 
3) Lindsay's employment of powerful and unusual rhythms in some of his best 
poems. Together these factors give the present collection a high percentage of 
poetry that absolutely demands to be read aloud. Through continued recitation 
the poems of Lindsay, Masters, and Sandburg will remain as living 
expressions of the American experience. 


The Western Hlinois Poets 


Born in Springfield in 1879, Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was the youngest of 
the three writers but the first to make an impact on the country. Raised in the 
evangelical tradition of the Campbellites and possessed of a g^eat love for 
America, the poet spent considerable time in 1906, 1908, and 1912 on tramping 
expeditions through various states. Inspired by St. Francis, he carried no 
money, begged for his meals, and saw himself as a modern troubadour— 
though his ideals were humanitarian and aesthetic as well as Christian. He 
distributed his early poems in a pamphlet called Rhymes To Be Traded for 
Bread and continually preached "The Gospel of Beauty," his own program for 
reforming American society, which was based on improving the individual's 
relationship to his own village or city. Though he spent several years in 
Chicago and New York, studying art and writing poetry, the majority of his 
writing during this early period was done either on the road or back home in 
Springfield, where he proclaimed his gospel in a pamphlet series called War 
Bulletins (1909) and in The Village Magazine (1910), which he wrote, 
illustrated, edited, and published. 

In September of 1912 a Chicago woman named Harriet Monroe began to 
publish a magazine too, but unlike Lindsay's venture. Poetry: A Magazine of 
Verse was to become nationally famous. During the second decade of the 
century her magazine opened its pages to a number of writers that were soon 
to become prominent figures in American poetry: Edwin Arlington Robinson, 
Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and of course, 
Lindsay, Masters, and Sandburg. The circumstances surrounding her 
discovery of Vachel Lindsay were recorded by Monroe in 1924: 

It was then— the autum of 1912— that I came across his vagabond 
tracks in some magazine article he had written describing his 
adventures. And it was inevitable that the editor of a new little poet's 
magazine should write requesting a look at some of those rhymes it 
told about. Not so inevitable, however, that the response should be 
General Booth, a poem which had sung itself into his mind as he 
tramped along western trails. And by the time it appeared, in the 
New Year number of 1913, the poet— blond haired, blue-eyed, 
beetle-browed; tramp, prohibitionist, campaigner for beauty— had 
added fuel to the fire of his poem by reading it to us in his own big 
voice. ^ 

^"Vachel Lindsay," Poetry, 24 (May 1924), 92. 


The response of critics to "General William Booth Enters into Heaven" was 
uniformly high praise— gratifying to Monroe, and of monumental importance 
to the poet. 

Later in 1913 a New York publisher brought out Lindsay's first book of 
poetry, General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems, and its 
fine reception was followed by an even greater success the next year, with the 
publication of The Congo and Other Poems. By this time, Vachel Lindsay was 
the most talked-about poet in America. A strong desire to recite his unique 
sort of chant-poetry, an interest in bringing poetic experience to the general 
public, and the realization that a good income could be made on the lecture 
circuit set Lindsay to the road again, the beginning of his triumph and his 

Audiences across the country and in England roared their approval of his 
recitations, especially for poems like "General Booth" and "The Congo," but his 
crowded schedule and strenuous performances left him emotionally distraught 
and physically exhausted. To this was added the frustration that set in as the 
years went by, for he had little time any longer to write poetry— much less to 
develop his ideas for the reform of American society. When he did present new 
material to his audiences, they clamored for a reading of his early poems, and 
when the most important presentation of his ideas for improving America, The 
Golden Book of Springfield (1920), appeared in print, it was disregarded. 
Convinced that he was a failure and beset with mental illness, he committed 
suicide in 1931. 



/ recited these three poems more than any others in my 
mendicant preaching tour through the West. Taken as a 
triad, they hold in solution my theory of American 

I. The Proud Fanner 

(In memory of E. S. Frazee, Rush County, Indiana)^ 

Into the acres of the newborn state 
He poured his strength, and plowed his ancient name, 
And, when the traders followed him, he stood 
Towering above their furtive souls and tame. 

That brow without a stain, that fearless eye 
Oft left the passing stranger wondering 
To find such knighthood in the sprawling land, 
To see a democrat well-nigh a king. 

He lived with liberal hand, with guests from far. 
With talk and joke and fellowship to spare,— 
Watching the wide world's life from sun to sun, 
Lining his walls with books from everywhere. 

He read by night, he built his world by day. 

The farm and house of God to him were one. 

For forty years he preached and plowed and wrought— 

A statesman in the fields, who bent to none. 

His plowmen-neighbors were as lords to him. 
His was an ironside, democratic pride. 
He served a rigid Christ, but served him well — 
And, for a lifetime, saved the countryside. 

Here lie the dead, who gave the church their best 
Under his fiery preaching of the word. 
They sleep with him beneath the ragged grass . . . 
The village withers, by his voice unstirred. 

^Reverend Ephraim Samuel Frazee was the poet's grandfather, a 
successful farmer who was also a well-read Campbellite minister. 


And tho' his tribe be scattered to the wind 
From the Atlantic to the China Sea, 
Yet do they think of that bright lamp he burned 
Of family worth and proud integrity. 

And many a sturdy grandchild hears his name 
In reverence spoken, till he feels akin 
To all the lion-eyed who build the world— 
And lion-dreams begin to burn within. 

//. The lUinois Village 

you who lose the art of hope. 
Whose temples seem to shrine a lie. 
Whose sidewalks are but stones of fear. 
Who weep that Liberty must die, 
Turn to the little prairie towns. 

Your higher hope shall yet begin. 
On every side awaits you there 
Some gate where glory enters in. 
Yet when I see the flocks of girls. 
Watching the Sunday train go thro' 
(As tho' the whole wide world went by) 
With eyes that long to travel too, 

1 sigh, despite my soul made glad 
By cloudy dresses and brown hair. 

Sigh for the sweet life wrenched and torn 
By thundering commerce, fierce and bare. 
Nymphs of the wheat these girls should be: 
Kings of the grove, their lovers, strong. 
Why are they not inspired, aflame? 
This beauty calls for valiant song— 
For men to carve these fairy-forms 
And faces in a fountain-frieze; 
Dancers that own immortal hours; 
Painters that work upon their knees; 
Maids, lovers, friends, so deep in life. 
So deep in love and poet's deeds. 
The railroad is a thing disowned. 
The city but a field of weeds. 


Who can pass a village church 
By night in these clean prairie lands 
Without a touch of Spirit-power? 
So white and fixed and cool it stands — 
A thing from some strange fairy-town, 
A pious amaranthine flower. 
Unsullied by the winds, as pure 
As jade or marble, wrought this hour:- 
Rural in form, foursquare and plain, 
And yet our sister, the new moon. 
Makes it a praying wizard's dream. 
The trees that watch at dusty noon 
Breaking its sharpest lines, veil not 
The whiteness it reflects from God, 
Flashing like Spring on many an eye. 
Making clean flesh, that once was clod. 

Who can pass a district school 
Without the hope that there may wait 
Some baby-heart the books shall flame 
With zeal to make his playmates great. 
To make the whole wide village gleam 
A strangely carved celestial gem, 
Eternal in its beauty-light, 
The Artist's town of Bethlehem! 

///. On the Building of Springfield 

Let not our town be large, remembering 
That little Athens was the Muses' home. 
That Oxford rules the heart of London still. 
That Florence gave the Renaissance to Rome. 

Record it for the grandson of your son— 
A city is not builded in a day: 
Our little town cannot complete her soul 
Till countless generations pass away. 

Now let each child be joined as to a church 
To her perpetual hopes, each man ordained: 
Let every street be made a reverent aisle 
Where Music grows and Beauty is unchained. 

Let Science and Machinery and Trade 
Be slaves of her, and make her all in all. 
Building against our blatant, restless time 
An unseen, skilful, medieval wall. 


Let every citizen be rich toward God. 
Let Christ the beggar, teach divinity. 
Let no man rule who holds his money dear. 
Let this, our city, be our luxury. 

We should build parks that students from afar 
Would choose to starve in, rather than go home, 
Fair little squares, with Phidian^ ornament. 
Food for the spirit, milk and honeycomb. 

Songs shall be sung by us in that good day. 
Songs we have written, blood within the rhyme 
Beating, as when Old England still was glad,— 
The purple, rich Elizabethan time. 

Say, is my prophecy too fair and far? 
I only know, unless her faith be high. 
The soul of this, our Nineveh, is doomed. 
Our little Babylon will surely die. 

Some city on the breast of Illinois 

No wiser and no better at the start 

By faith shall rise redeemed, by faith shall rise 

Bearing the western glory in her heart. 

The genius of the Maple, Elm and Oak, 
The secret hidden in each grain of corn. 
The glory that the prairie angels sing 
At night when sons of Life and Love are born. 

Born but to struggle, squalid and alone. 
Broken and wandering in their early years. 
When will they make our dusty streets their goal. 
Within our attics hide their sacred tears? 

When will they start our vulgar blood athrill 
With living language, words that set us free? 
When will they make a path of beauty clear 
Between our riches and our liberty? 

We must have many Lincoln-hearted men. 
A city is not builded in a day. 
And they must do their work, and come and go. 
While countless generations pass away. 

^Phidias was a Greek sculptor of the fifth century B. C. He is credited with 
designing the sculptures of the Parthenon. 


(John P. Altgeld. Bom December 30, 1847; died March 12, 1902)^ 

Sleep softly . . . eagle forgotten . . . under the stone. 
Time has its way with you there, and the clay has its own. 

"We have buried him now," thought your foes, and in 

secret rejoiced. 
They made a brave show of their mourning, their hatred 


They had snarled at you, barked at you, foamed at you day 

after day. 
Now you were ended. They praised you . . . and laid you 


The others that mourned you in silence and terror and 

The widow bereft of her crust, and the boy without youth. 
The mocked and the scorned and the wounded, the lame 

and the poor 
That should have remembered forever, . . . remember no 


Where are those lovers of yours, on what name do they call 
The lost, that in armies wept over your funeral pall? 
They call on the names of a hundred high-vahant ones, 
A hundred white eagles have risen the sons of you sons. 
The zeal in their wings is a zeal that your dreaming began. 
The valor that wore out your soul in the service of man. 

Sleep softly, . . . eagle forgotten,. . . under the stone. 
Time has its way with you there and the clay has its own. 
Sleep on, brave-hearted, wise man, that kindled the 

To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name. 
To live in mankind, far, far more . . . than to live in a 


1 Altgeld was Governor of Illinois from 1892 to 1896, during which time he 
promoted a number of social reforms. Several of his actions while governor 
were controversial, but none more than his pardoning of the men convicted of 
complicity in the Chicago Hay market riot, for which he was viciously attacked 
in the press. He was defeated for re-election in 1896. Lindsay wrote this poem 
in 1911, on the ninth anniversary of his death. 



[To he sung to the tune of "The Blood of the Lamb" with indicated instrument) 


(Bass drum beaten loudly.) 
Booth led boldly with his big bass drum — 
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) 
The Saints smiled gravely and they said: "He's come." 
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) 
Walking lepers followed, rank on rank, 
Lurching bravos from the ditches dank. 
Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale — 
Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail:— 
Vermin-eaten saints with moldy breath. 
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death — 
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) 

(Banjos. ) 
Every slum had sent its half-a-score 
The round world over. (Booth had groaned for more.) 
Every banner that the wide world flies 
Bloomed with glory and transcendent dyes. 
Big-voiced lasses made their banjos bang, 
Tranced, fanatical they shrieked and sang: — 
"Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" 
Hallelujah! It was queer to see 
Bull-necked convicts with that land make free. 
Loons with trumpets blowed a blare, blare, blare 
On, on upward thro' the golden air! 
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) 


(Bass drum slower and softer. ) 
Booth died blind and still by faith he trod. 
Eyes still dazzled by the ways of God. 
Booth led boldly, and he looked the chief 
Eagle countenance in sharp relief, 
Beard a-flying, air of high command 
Unabated in that holy land. 

^Written in 1912, shortly after the death of General Booth, the founder and 
commander-in-chief of the Salvation Army. 


(Sweet flute music. ) 
Jesus came from out the court-house door, 
Stretched his hands above the passing poor. 
Booth saw not, but led his queer ones there 
Round and round the mighty court-house square. 
Then, in an instant all that blear review 
Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new. 
The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled 
And blind eyes opened on a new, sweet world. 

(Bass drum louder. ) 
Drabs and vixens in a flash made whole! 
Gone was the weasel-head, the snout, the jowl! 
Sages and sibyls now, and athletes clean, 
Rulers of empires, and of forests greenl 

(Grand chorus of all instruments. Tambourines to the 

foreground. ) 
The hosts were sandalled, and their wings were fire! 
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) 
But their noise played havoc with the angel-choir. 
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) 
Oh, shout Salvation! It was good to see 
Kings and Princes by the Lamb set free. 
The banjos rattled and the tambourines 
Jing-jing-jingled in the hands of Queens. 

(Reverently sung, no instruments. ) 
And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer 
He saw his Master thro' the flag-filled air. 
Christ came gently with a robe and crown 
For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down. 
He saw King Jesus. They were face to face. 
And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place. 
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? 




{In Springfield, Rlinois) 

It is portentous, and a thing of state 
That here at midnight, in our little town 
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest, 
Near the old court-house pacing up and down, 

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards 
He lingers where his children used to play. 
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones 
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away. 

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black, 
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl 
Make him the quaint great figure that men love. 
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all. 

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now. 

He is among us: — as in times before! 

And we who toss and lie awake for long 

Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door. 

His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings. 
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep? 
Too many peasants fight, they know not why. 
Too many homesteads in black terror weep. 

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart. 
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main. 
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now 
The bitterness, the folly and the pain. 

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn 
Shall come;— the shining hope of Europe free: 
The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth, 
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea. 

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still, 
That all his hours of travail here for men 
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace 
That he may sleep upon his hill again? 

Written in 1914, after the outbreak of World War I. 


A Study of the Negro Race 

{Being a memorial to Ray Eldred, a Disciple missionary of the 
Congo River r 

I. Their Basic Savagery 

Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room. 

Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable, 

Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table, A deep rolling 

Pounded on the table, ^''^^■ 

Beat on empty barrel with the handle of a broom, 

Hard as they were able, 

Boom, boom. Boom. 

With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom, 

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay. Boom. 

Then I had religion, Then I had a vision. 

I could not turn from their revel in derision. 

Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black, More deliberate. 

Cutting through the forest with a golden track. Solemnly chanted. 

Then along that riverbank 

A thousand miles 

Tattooed cannibals danced in files; 

Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song 

And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong. A rapidly piling 

And "Blood" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the ^^""^^' f/^P^^^ 

and racket. 

"Blood" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors, 

"Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle, 

Harry the uplands. 

Steal all the cattle. 

Rattle-rattle, rattle-rattle, 


Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, Boom," 

^When he included "The Congo" in his Collected Poems (New York: 
Macmillan, 1923), Lindsay added the above memorial statement, and he also 
placed the following note at the end of the poem: "This poem, particularly the 
third section, was suggested by an allusion in a sermon by my pastor, F. W. 
Burnham, to the heroic Hfe and death of Ray Eldred. Eldred was a missionary 
of the Disciples of Christ who perished while swimming a treacherous branch 
of the Congo. See A Master Builer on the Congo, by Andrew F. Henesey, 
published by Fleming H. Revell." 


A roaring, epic, rag-time tune 

From the mouth of the Congo 

To the Mountains of the Moon. 

Death is an Elephant, 

Torch-eyed and horrible. 

Foam-flanked and terrible. 

Boom, steal the pygmies. 

Boom, kill the Arabs, 

Boom, kill the white men, 

Hoo, Hoc, Hoo. 

Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost^ 

Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host. 

Hear how the demons chuckle and yell 

Cutting his hands off, down in Hell. 

Listen to the creepy proclamation, 

Blown through the lairs of the forest-nation. 

Blown past the white-ants' hill of clay, 

Blown past the marsh where the butterflies play:- 

"Be careful what you do. 

Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo, 

And all of the other 

Gods of the Congo, 

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you, 

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you, 

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you." 

With a philo- 
sophic pause. 

Shrilly and with 
a heavily accented 

Like the wind 
in the chimney. 

All the "o" sounds 
very golden. Heavy 
accents very heavy. 
Light accents very light. 
Last line whispered. 

II. Their Irrepressible High Spirits 

Wild crap-shooters with a whoop and a call 
Danced the juba^ in their gambling hall 
And laughed fit to kill, and shook the town. 
And guyed the policemen and laughed them down 
With a boomlay, boomlay, boomlay. Boom. 
Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black, 
Cutting through the forest with a golden track. 
A Negro fairyland swung into view. 

Rather shrill 
and high. 

Read exactly as in 
first section. 

^Leopold H was King of Belgium from 1865 to 1909, and he exercised harsh 
control over the Congo Free State and was criticized for atrocities committed 
against the natives of the region. 

^An African dance which was brought to America by slaves. 


A ministrel river 

Where dreams come true. 

The ebony palace soared on high 

Through the blossoming trees to the evening sky. 

The inlaid porches and casements shone 

With gold and ivory and elephant-bone. 

And the black crowd laughed till their sides were sore 

At the baboon butler in the agate door, 

And the well-known tunes of the parrot band 

That trilled on the bushes of that magic land. 

Lay emphasis on 
the delicate ideas. 
Keep as light-footed 
as possible. 

A troupe of skull-faced witch-men came 

Through the agate doorway in suits of flame, 

Yea, long-tailed coats with a gold-leaf crust 

And hats that were covered with diamond-dust. 

And the crowd in the court gave a whoop and a call 

And danced the juba from wall to wall. 

But the witch-men suddenly stilled the throng 

With a stern cold glare, and a stern old song:— 

"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you." . . . 

Just then from the doorway, as fat as shotes. 

Came the cake-walk^ princes in their long red coats. 

Canes with a brilliant lacquer shine. 

And tall silk hats that were red as wine. 

And they pranced with their butterfly partners there. 

Coal-black maidens with pearls in their hair. 

Knee-skirts trimmed with the jassamine sweet. 

And bells on their ankles and little black-feet. 

And the couples railed at the chant and the frown 

Of the witch-men lean, and laughed them down. 

(Oh, rare was the revel, and well worth while 

That made those glowering witch-men smile.) 

With pomposity. 

With a great 
and ghostliness. 

With overwhelming 
assurance, good cheer, 
and pomp. 

With growing speed 
and sharply marked 

The cake-walk royalty then began 

To walk for a cake that was tall as a man 

To the tune of "Boomlay, boomlay. Boom," 

While the witch-men laughed, with a sinister air. 

And sang with the scalawags prancing there:— 

With a touch of 
negro dialect, and 
as rapidly as 
possible toward 
the end. 

^The cake-walk was a dance that originated among American Negro slaves. 
Couples were eliminated by judges, and the last two dancers were rewarded 
with a highly decorated cake. 


"Walk with care, walk with care, 

Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo, 

And all of the other Gods of the Congo, 

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you. 

Beware, beware, walk with care, 

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom. 

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom. 

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom. 

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay. 


(Oh, rare was the revel, and well worth while 

That made those glowering witch-men smile.) 

Slow philo- 
sophic calm. 

III. The Hope of Their Religion 

A good old Negro in the slums of the town 

Preached at a sister for her velvet gown. 

Howled at a brother for his low-down ways. 

His prowling, guzzling, sneak-thief days. 

Beat on the Bible till he wore it out 

Starting the jubilee revival shout. 

And some had visions, as they stood on chairs, 

And sang of Jacob, and the golden stairs. 

And they all repented, a thousand strong 

From their stupor and savagery and sin and wrong 

And slammed with their hymn books till they shook the 

With "glory, glory, glory," 
And "Boom, boom, Boom." 

Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black, 
Cutting through the jungle with a golden track. 
And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veil 
And showed the Apostles with their coats of mail. 
In bright white steel they were seated round 
And their fire-eyes watched where the Congo wound. 
And the twelve Apostles, from their thrones on high 
Thrilled all the forest with their heavenly cry: — 

Heavy bass. 
With a literal 
imitation of 
racket, and trance. 

Exactly as in the 
first section. 
Begin with terror 
and power, end 
with joy. 

"Mumbo-Jumbo will die in the jungle; 
Never again will he hoo-doo you. 
Never again will he hoo-doo you." 

Sung to the tune 
of "Hark, ten 
thousand harps 
and voices. " 


Then along that river, a thousand miles 

The vine-snared trees fell down in files. 

Pioneer angels cleared the way 

For a Congo paradise, for babes at play. 

For sacred capitals,'for temples clean. 

Gone were the skull-faced witch-men lean. 

There, where the wild ghost-gods had wailed 

A million boats of the angels sailed 

With oars of silver, and prows of blue 

And sil'^en pennants that the sun shone through. 

'Twas a land transfigured, 'twas a new creation. 

Oh, a singing wind swept the negro nation 

And on through the backwoods clearing flew: — 

"Mumbo-Jumbo is dead in the jungle. 

Never again will he hoo-doo you. 

Never again will he hoodoo you." 

With growing 
and joy. 

In a rather high key- 
as delicately as possible. 

To the tune of 
"Hark, ten thousand 
harps and voices. " 

Redeemed were the forests, the beasts and the men, 

and only the vulture dared again 

By the far, lone mountains of the moon 

To cry, in the silence, the Congo tune: — 

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you, 

"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you. 

Mumbo . . . Jumbo . . . will . . . hoo-doo . . . you." 

Dying down into a 
pen tra ting, terrified 



Edgar Lee Masters was the second of the western Illinois poets to achieve 
national recognition. He was born in Garnett, Kansas in 1868 but grew up in 
Petersburg and Lewistown, Illinois— his models for the village of "Spoon 
River" in his later writings. The former town was the home of Masters' 
paternal grandparents, Davis and Lucinda Masters, who lived on a farm a few 
miles from the village itself. Even after the move to Lewistown, where his 
father had a successful law practice, Lee— as he was always called by his 
family— spent several weeks every summer enjoying the open fields and 
woods of the Petersburg farm. 

He later attended Knox College in Galesburg for one year, adding study in 
Greek and German to the Latin he had learned in secondary school. He was by 
far the most well-read of the western lUinois poets, and his works contain 
references to Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, 
Goethe, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Browning, Poe, Whitman, and dozens of 
other writers. But his career interests were divided between literature and 
law, and in 1892 he went to Chicago and set up his legal practice. 

While in the city he continued to follow both his vocation in the law— which 
blossomed into a highly successful partnership with the controversial criminal 
lawyer Clarence Darrow — and his avocation of poetry— which led to the 
publication oiA Book of Verses (1898), a volume of poor poetry written in the 
genteel tradition. Much later, in 1913, Masters attempted to get poems of the 
same kind published in a magazine called Reedy 's Mirror, edited by William 
Marion Reedy of St. Louis, and although the verses were rejected, it was the 
beginning of an important friendship. Reedy gave him a copy of Selected 
Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, and due to this influence and his earlier 
intention to write a book about American village life, the poet wrote his first 
few free verse monologues, which were intended as parodies of the classical 
epitaphs. Reedy published them in May 29, 1914, under the pseudonym of 
Webster Ford, for Masters was worried about the effect that this kind of bold, 
frank poetry might have on his law career. By sending Reedy a few poems 
every week, the whole Spoon River Anthology was published in about six 

Though the early comments on his poems in Reedy 's Mirror were 
enthusiastic— with Harriet Monroe wishing that they had appeared in Poetry 
and H. L. Mencken wanting them for Smart Set — there was no way of 
predicting what the reaction might be to the poems in book form. When the 
volume did appear, it was hailed as the finest book of poetry since Whitman's 
Leaves of Grass. Spoon River Anthology went through eleven printings in 
1915 alone and became the best selling book of poetry in the history of 
American literature up to that time. 

As was the case with Vachel Lindsay, Masters' tremendous success had a 
great impact on his poetic career. He hurried a quick succession of other 
volumes into print, but they were not of the calibre of Spoon River Anthology 
and received predominantly negative reviews. Every subsequent book of his 
poetry was compared to his one famous work, which rose in reputation as the 
other volumes were rejected. Masters published 50 books in his lifetime, 


including verse dramas, novels, biographies, histories, volumes of lyric and 
narrative poetry, and a collection of essays, but none achieved either early 
acclaim or lasting recognition except Spoon River Anthology. 

After a number of his subsequent books had been poorly received and his 
law practice had dwindled, he became involved in a series of love affairs, was 
divorced by his wife (Helen Jenkins, whom he had married in 1898), and in 
1923, moved to New York City. Three years later he married Ellen F. Coyne. 
Masters remained friends with Vachel Lindsay until the latter's death in 1931 
and then wrote his biography, Vachel Lindsay: A Poet in America (1935), but 
he and Carl Sandburg ended their friendship— largely because of the sharply 
opposed attitudes expressed in their Lincoln biographies. He spent the last six 
years of his life in convalescent homes due to his ill health, and during this time 
he was not able to continue writing. Masters died in 1950. 



Out of me unworthy and unknown 

The vibrations of deathless music; 

"With malice toward none, with charity for all. 

Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions, 

And the beneficent face of a nation 

Shining with justice and truth. 

I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds. 

Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln, 

Wedded to him, not through union, 

But through separation. 

Bloom forever, Repubhc, 

From the dust of my bosom! 


I am Minerva, the village poetess. 

Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street 

For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk. 

And all the more when "Butch" Weldy 

Captured me after a brutal hunt. 

He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers; 

And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up. 

Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice. 

Will some one go to the village newspaper. 

And gather into a book the verses I wrote?— 

I thirsted so for love! 

I hungered so for life! 

The daughter of tavern owner James Rutledge of New Salem, Illinois, 
where Lincoln lived as a young man. He met her in 1831, and she died four 
years later. William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner in Springfield and later 
his biographer, was the first to tell of the great love affair that has since 
become a legend. Most Lincoln biographers have approached the story with 
great skepticism, but Carl Sandburg's beautiful retelling of it in Abraham 
Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926) is surely the only version that America will 

ever accept. 
From Lincoln's second Inaugural Address (1865). 



You would not believe, would you, 

That I came from good Welsh stock? 

That I was purer blooded that the white trash here? 

And of more direct lineage than the New Englanders 

And Virginians of Spoon River? 

You would not believe that I had been to school 

And read some books. 

You saw me only as a run-down man. 

With matted hair and beard 

And ragged clothes. 

Sometimes a man's life turns into a cancer 

From being bruised and continually bruised. 

And swells into a purplish mass, 

Like growths on stalks of corn. 

Here was I, a carpenter, mired in a bog of life 

Into which I walked, thinking it was a meadow. 

With a slattern for a wife, and poor Minerva, my daughter. 

Whom you tormented and drove to death. 

So I crept, crept, like a snail through the days 

Of my life. 

No more you hear my footsteps in the morning. 

Resounding on the hollow sidewalk. 

Going to the grocery store for a little corn meal 

And a nickel's worth of bacon. 

In another poem, "Alfred Moir," the speaker makes an assessment of 
'Indignation" Jones in the process of looking back over his own life: 

Why was I not devoured by self-contempt. 

And rotted down by indifference 

And impotent revolt like Indignation Jones? 



There is the caw of a crow. 

And the hesitant song of a thrush. 

There is the tinkle of a cowbell far away. 

And the voice of a plowman on Shipley's hill. 

The forest beyond the orchard is still 

With midsummer stillness; 

And along the road a wagon chuckles, 

Loaded with corn, going to Atterbury. 

And an old man sits under a tree asleep, 

And an old woman crosses the road. 

Coming from the orchard with a bucket of blackberries. 

And a boy lies in the grass 

Near the feet of the old man, 

And looks up at the sailing clouds. 

And longs, and longs, and longs 

For what, he knows not: 

For manhood, for life, for the unknown world! 

Then thirty years passed. 

And the boy returned worn out by life 

And found the orchard vanished. 

And the forest gone. 

And the house made over. 

And the roadway filled with dust from automobiles— 

And himself desiring The HUII^ 

This evocation of the Illinois countryside is based on the poet's boyhood 
experiences on the Masters farm near Petersburg. See Across Spoon River: 
An Autobiography (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1936), p. 403. 


The Hill" refers to the village cemetery. This is also the title of the 
opening poem in the Anthology. 



I sat on the bank above Bernadotte 
And dropped crumbs in the water, 
Just to seethe minnows bump each other, 
Until the strongest got the prize. 
Or I went to my little pasture, 

Where the peaceful swine were asleep in the wallow, 
Or nosing each other lovingly. 
And emptied a basket of yellow corn, 
And watched them push and squeal and bite. 
And trample each other to get the corn. 
And I saw how Christian Dallman's farm, 
Of more than three thousand acres. 
Swallowed the patch of Felix Schmidt,^ 
As a bass will swallow a minnow. 
And I say if there's anything in man- 
Spirit, or conscience, or breath of God 
That makes him different from fishes or hogs, 
I'd like to see it work! 

The poem which precedes this one in the Anthology is "Felix Schmidt," in 
which the speaker tells of losing his small farm in a legal dispute. 



The earth keeps some vibration going 

There in your heart, and that is you. 

And if the people find you can fiddle, 

Why, fiddle you must, for all your life. 

What do you see, a harvest of clover? 

Or a meadow to walk through to the river? 

The wind's in the corn; you rub your hands 

For beeves hereafter ready for market; 

Or else you hear the rustle of skirts 

Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove. 

To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust 

Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth; 

They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy 

Stepping it off, to "Toor-a-Loor." 

How could I till my forty acres 

Not to speak of getting more. 

With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos 

Stirred in my brain by crows and robins 

And the creak of a wind-mill— only these? 

And I never started to plow in my life 

That some one did not stop in the road 

And take me away to a dance or picnic. 

I ended up with forty acres; 

I ended up with a broken fiddle — 

And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories, 

And not a single regret. 

^Fiddler Jones was the brother of Hannah Armstrong of Clary's Grove, 
Illinois. She and her husband were among Lincoln's closest friends while he 
was at New Salem, and so he was probably also acquainted with her brother. 
Jones was a folk hero in the Petersburg area (which is close to New Salem and 
Clary's Grove) when Masters was a boy— according to Dale Kramer, Chicago 
Renaissance (New York: Appleton, 1966), p. 264. Evidently one of the poet's 
favorite characterizations, Jones is also the subject of a stanza in the opening 
poem of the Anthology, "The HUl." 

The poem that precedes this one in the Anthology is "Cooney Potter, m 
which the speaker tells how he enlarged his farm from 40 acres to 1,000 but 
died before the age of 60 from working too hard. 



Spring and Summer, Fall and Winter and Spring 

After each other drifting, past my window drifting! 

And I lay so many years watching them drift and counting 

The years till a terror came in my heart at times. 

With the feeling that I had become eternal; at last 

My hundredth year was reached! And still I lay 

Hearing the tick of the clock, and the low of cattle 

And the scream of a jay flying through falling leaves! 

Day after day alone in a room of the house 

Of a daughter-in-law stricken with age and gray. 

And by night, or looking out of the window by day 

My thought ran back, it seemed, through infinite time 

To North Carolina and all my girlhood days. 

And John, my John, away to the war with the British, 

And all the children, the deaths, and all the sorrows. 

And that stretch of years like a prairie in Illinois 

Through which great figures passed like hurrying horsemen, 

Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Clay. 

beautiful young republic for whom my John and I 
Gave all of our strength and love! 

And my John! 

Why, when I lay so helpless in bed for years. 
Praying for you to come, was your coming delayed? 
Seeing that with a cry of rapture, like that I uttered 
When you found me in old Virginia after the war, 

1 cried when I beheld you there by the bed. 

As the sun stood low in the west growing smaller and 

In the light of your face! 

^The poet's great-great-grandmother, whose husband— contrary to what 
the poem indicates— actually did not return from the Revolutionary War, and 
who later brought her family to Illinois. 



I went to the dances at Chandlerville, 
And played snap-out at Winchester. 
One time we changed partners, 
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June, 
And then I found Davis. 

We were married and lived together for seventy years, 
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children. 
Eight of whom we lost 
Ere I had reached the age of sixty. 
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick, 
I made the garden, and for holiday 
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks. 
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell. 
And many a flower and medicinal weed- 
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys. 
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all. 
And passed to a sweet repose. 
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness, 
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes? 
Degenerate sons and daughters. 
Life is too strong for you— 
It takes life to love Life. 

^Based on the life of Lucinda Masters, the poet's grandmother. He greatly 
admired her vitality and good humor, and in his autobiography he summed up 
her character with what was to him a very complimentary remark: "she was 
never anything but a pioneer woman" (Across Spoon River, p. 8). 



Better than gjanite, Spoon River, 

Is the memory-picture you keep of me 

Standing before the pioneer men and women 

There at Concord Church on Communion day. 

Speaking in broken voice of the pleasant youth 

Of Galilee who went to the city 

And was killed by bankers and lawyers; 

My voice mingling with the June wind 

That blew over wheat fields from Atterbury; 

While the white stones in the burying ground 

Around the Church shimmered in the summer sun. 

And there, though my own memories 

Were too great to bear, were you, pioneers. 

With bowed heads breathing forth your sorrow 

For the sons killed in battle and the daughters 

And little children who vanished in life's morning. 

Or at the intolerable hour of noon. 

But in those moments of tragic silence. 

When the wine and bread were passed, 

Came the reconciliation for us— 

Us the ploughmen and the hewers of wood, 

Us the peasants, brothers of the peasant of Galilee- 

To us came the Comforter 

And the consolation of tongues of flame! 

•'^A thinly-disguised tribute to the poet's grandfather. Squire Davis 
Masters, about whom the poet later wrote: "He spoke with fluency at Concord 
Church and elsewhere on public occasions, always moving his pioneer listeners 
to tears. For he was a man of profound feeling, to whom man's pilgrimage on 
earth and his end in the grave constituted a mysterious tragedy, which 
nevertheless had been turned to hope and gifted with immortality by the grace 
of the blood of Jesus." Across Spoon River, p. 4. 



Seeds in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick. 

Tick, tick, tick, like mites in a quarrel — 

Faint iambics that the full breeze wakens — 

But the pine tree makes a symphony thereof. 

Triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus. 

Ballades by the score with the same old thought. 

The snows and the roses of yesterday are vanished; 

And what is love but a rose that fades? 

Life all around me here in the village: 

Tragedy, comedy, valor and truth. 

Courage, constancy, heroism, failure — 

All in the loom, and oh what patterns! 

Woodlands, meadows, streams and rivers — 

Blind to all of it all my life long. 

Triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus. 

Seeds in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick. 

Tick, tick, tick what little iambics. 

While Homer and Whitman roared in the pines? 

•"^It is not difficult to see Petit as a figure who represents Masters himself as 
a young poet, for he wrote conventional, imitative verse before turning to 
American village life for the contents of Spoon River Anthology. Homer and 
Whitman— writers of powerful unrhymed poetry which celebrated the 
character and spirit of their respective countries — were two of Masters' 
favorite poets. 

The triolet, villanelle, rondel, rondeau, and ballade are artificial French verse 

forms. They were often used to express conventional love themes. 



Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg in 1878, the son of Swedish 
immigrant parents. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade in order to 
get a job and help support the family, but he later studied (from 1898 to 1902) 
at Lombard College, which was located in Galesburg. During the interim he 
worked at various jobs in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado, and he 
served in the Spanish-American War. After college he turned to newspaper 
work, first in his home town, in 1904-1906, and then in Milwaukee and Chicago. 
During the ten-year period between the time when he left Galesburg and the 
appearance of Chicago Poems (1916), he also worked as private secretary to 
the mayor of Milwaukee, became a district organizer for the Social Democratic 
Party, and campaigned with Eugene Debs during his bid for the presidency. 

Sandburg was employed as a reporter by the Chicago Day Book when he 
sent a group of nine poems to the editors of Poetry early in 1914. The March 
issue for that year carried the entire group, which included "Chicago," and 
though the response of the critics was mixed, Harriet Monroe was convinced 
that she had made a real discovery. She arranged to have Sandburg receive 
the 1914 Levinson Prize — worth $200 — which was given annually by Poetry 
for the best poems of the year written in America. This was managed in spite 
of the fact there was some question as to whether Sandburg's contributions 
actually were poetry. Other poems were soon published in Masses and in 
Reedy 's Mirror, and during 1915 Edgar Lee Masters used his growing 
reputation and influence to help find a publisher for Sandburg's first poetry 
volume. In 1916, Henry Holt and Company issued Chicago Poems. 

Though not received in quite the same fashion as Spoon River Anthology, 
Chicago Poems did attract considerable attention and receive a number of 
highly favorable reviews. Not only was the free verse energetic and versatile, 
inviting comparison with the poetry of Whitman, but the subject matter was 
totally original. The volumes which followed Chicago Poems were often 
well-received and contained much good poetry, but none created the 
excitement of this first book or has received such a high critical estimate. 

Sandburg's success with the public increased steadily as he turned out his 
later books of poetry: Comhuskers (1918), Smoke and Steel (1920), Slabs of the 
Sunburnt West (1922), Good Morning, America (1928), The People, Yes 
(1936), and others. But it was his performances as poetry reader and folk 
singer, and his massive biogn*aphy of Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie 
Years, 1926, and Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 1939), that helped to make 
him an American institution. His later life was one long series of awards, 
including several honorary degrees, three Pulitzer Prizes, a Presidential 
Medal of Freedom, and a designation as "poet laureate of Illinois." 

Sandburg moved to Flat Rock, North Carolina, in 1945 and resided there, 
continuing to write poetry, until his death in 1967. He was 89. 



Hog Butcher for the World, 

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, 

Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; 

Stormy, husky, brawling. 

City of the Big Shoulders: 

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted 

women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. 
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the 

gunman kill and go free to kill again. 
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and 

children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger. 
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, 

and I give them back the sneer and say to them: 
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive 

and coarse and strong and cunning. 
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold 

slugger set vivid against the little soft cities; 
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted 
against the wilderness. 

Building, breaking, rebuilding. 
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, 
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs. 
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle, 
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his 
ribs the heart of the people! 
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, 
sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, 
Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation. 



Of my city the worst that men will ever say is this: 
You took little children away from the sun and the dew, 
And the glimmers that played in the grass under the great sky, 
And the reckless rain; you put them between walls 
To work, broken and smothered, for bread and wages. 
To eat dust in their throats and die empty-hearted 
For a little handful of pay on a few Saturday nights. 


Mamie beat her head against the bars of a little Indiana town and dreamed of 

romance and big things off somewhere the way the railroad trains all ran. 
She could see the smoke of the engines get lost down where the streaks of steel 

flashed in the sun and when the newspapers came in on the morning mail 

she knew there was a big Chicago far off, where all the trains ran. 
She got tired of the barber shop boys and the post office chatter and the church 

gossip and the old pieces the band played on the Fourth of July and 

Decoration Day 
And sobbed at her fate and beat her head against the bars and was going to kill 

When the thought came to her that if she was going to die she might as well 

die struggling for a clutch of romance among the streets of Chicago. 
She now has a job at six dollars a week in the basement of the Boston Store 
And even now she beats her head against the bars in the same old way and 

wonders if there is a bigger place the railroads run to from Chicago where 

maybe there is 
and big things 
and real dreams 
that never go smash. 



New-mown hay smell and wind of the plain made her a woman whose ribs had 

the power of the hills in them and her hands were tough for work and there 

was passion for life in her womb. 
She and her man crossed the ocean and the years that marked their faces saw 

them haggling with landlords and grocers while six children played on the 

stones and prowled in the garbage cans. 
One child coughed its lungs away, two more have adenoids and can neither talk 

nor run like their mother, one is in jail, two have jobs in a box factory 
And as they fold the pasteboard, they wonder what the wishing is and the 

wistful glory in them that flutters faintly when the glimmer of spring comes 

on the air or the green of summer turns brown: 
They do not know it is the new-mown hay smell calling and the wind of the 

plain praying for them to come back and take hold of life again with tough 

hands and with passion. 


I wish to God I never saw you, Mag. 

I wish you never quit your job and came along with me. 

I wish we never bought a license and a white dress 

For you to get married in the day we ran off to a minister 

And told him we would love each other and take care of each other 

Always and always long as the sun and the rain lasts anywhere. 

Yes, I'm wishing now you lived somewhere away from here 

And I was a bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away dead broke. 

I wish the kids had never come 

And rent and coal and clothes to pay for 

And a grocery man calling for cash. 

Every day cash for beans and prunes. 

I wish to God I never saw you, Mag. 

I wish to God the kids had never come. 



I sat with a dynamiter at supper in a German saloon eating steak and onions. 
And he laughed and told stories of his wife and children and the cause of labor 

and the working class. 
It was laughter of an unshakable man knowing life to be a rich and redblooded 

Yes, his laugh rang like the call of gray birds filled with a glory of joy ramming 

their winged flight through a rain storm. 
His name was in many newspapers as an enemy of the nation and few keepers 

of churches or schools would open their doors to him. 
Over the steak and onions not a word was said of his deep days and nights as a 

Only I remember him as a lover of life, a lover of children, a lover of all free, 

reckless laughter everywhere— lover of red hearts and red blood the world 



I know an ice handler who wears a flannel shirt with pearl buttons the size of a 

And he lugs a hundred-pound hunk into a saloon icebox, helps himself to cold 

ham and rye bread. 
Tells the bartender it's hotter than yesterday and will be hotter yet tommor- 

row, by Jesus, 
And is on his way with his head in the air and a hard pair of fists. 
He spends a dollar or so every Saturday night on a two hundred pound woman 

who washes dishes in the Hotel Morrison. 
He remembers when the union was organized he broke the noses of two scabs 

and loosened the nuts so the wheels came off six different wagons one 

morning, and he came around and watched the ice melt in the street. 
All he was sorry for was one of the scabs bit him on the knuckles of the right 

hand so they bled when he came around to the saloon to tell the boys about 




Jack was a swarthy, swaggering son-of-a-gun. 

He worked thirty years on the railroad, ten hours a day, and his hands were 

tougher than sole leather. 
He married a tough woman and they had eight children and the woman died 

and the children grew up and went away and wrote the old man every two 

He died in the poorhouse sitting on a bench in the sun telling reminiscences to 

other old men whose women were dead and children scattered. 
There was joy on his face when he died as there was joy on his face when he 

lived— he was a swarthy, swaggering son-of-a-gun. 


I know a Jew fish crier down on Maxwell Street with a voice like a north wind 

blowing over corn stubble in January. 
He dangles herring before prospective customers evincing a joy identical with 

that of Pavlowa^ dancing. 
His face is that of a man terribly glad to be selling fish, terribly glad that God 

made fish, and customers to whom he may call his wares from a pushcart. 

^Anna Pavlova (1885-1931), a Russian dancer who became prima ballerina 
in 1901, made her New York debut in 1910, and then toured extensively 
through the United States and Canada. 



Everybody loved Chick Lorimer in our town. 

Far off 
Everybody loved her. 
So we all love a wild girl keeping a hold 

On a dream she wants. 
Nobody knows now where Chick Lorimer went. 
Nobody knows why she packed her trunk ... a few old things 
And is gone, * 

Gone with her little chin 

Thrust ahead of her 

And her soft hair blowing careless 

From under a wide hat, 
Dancer, singer, a laughing passionate lover. 

Were there ten men or a hundred hunting Chick? 
Were there five men or fifty with aching hearts? 
Everbody loved Chick Lorimer. 
Nobody knows where she's gone. 

Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary 

Good-by now to the streets and the clash of wheels and locking hubs. 

The sun coming on the brass buckles and harness knobs. 

The muscles of the horses sliding under their heavy haunches, 

Good-by now to the traffic policeman and his whistle, 

The smash of the iron hoof on the stones. 

All the crazy wonderful slamming roar of the street— 

God, there's noises I'm going to be hungry for. 



By day the skyscraper looms in the smoke and sun and has a soul. 

Prairie and valley, streets of the city, pour people into it and they mingle 

among its twenty floors and are poured out again back to the street, 

prairies and valleys. 
It is the men and women, boys and girls so poured in and out all day that give 

the building a soul of dreams and thoughts and memories. 
(Dumped in the sea or fixed in a desert, who would care for the building or 

speak its name or ask a policeman the way to it?) 

Elevators slide on their cables and tubes catch letters and parcels and iron 

pipes carry gas and water in and sewage out. 
Wires climb with secrets, carry light and carry words, and tell terrors and 

profits and loves— curses of men grappling plans of business and questions 

of women in plots of love. 

Hour by hour the caissons reach down to the rock of the earth and hold the 

building to a turning planet. 
Hour by hour the girders play as ribs and reach out and hold together the stone 

walls and floors. 
Hour by hour the hand of the mason and the stuff of the mortar clinch the 

pieces and parts to the shape an architect voted. 
Hour by hour the sun and the rain, the air and the rust, and the press of time 

running into centuries, play on the building inside and out and use it. 

Men who sunk the pilings and mixed the mortar are laid in graves where the 
wind whistles a wild song without words 

And so are men who strung the wires and fixed the pipes and tubes and those 
who saw it rise floor by floor. 

Souls of them all are here, even the hod carrier begging at back doors 
hundreds of miles away and the bricklayer who went to state's prison for 
shooting another man while drunk. 

(One man fell from a girder and broke his neck at the end of a straight plunge- 
he is here— his soul has gone into the stones of the building.) 

On the office doors from tier to tier— hundreds of names and each name 
standing for a face written across with a dead child, a passionate lover, a 
driving ambition for a million dollar business or a lobster's ease of live. 

Behind the signs on the doors they work and the walls tell nothing from room 

to room. 
Ten-dollar-a-week stenographers take letters from corporation officers, 

lawyers, efficiency engineers, and tons of letters go bundled from the 

building to all ends of the earth. 
Smiles and tears of each office girl go into the soul of the building just the same 

as the master-men who rule the building. 


Hands of clocks turn to noon hours and each floor empties its men and women 

who go away and eat and come back to work. 
Toward the end of the afternoon all work slackens and all jobs go slower as the 

people feel day closing on them. 
One by one the floors are emptied .... The uniformed elevator men are gone. 

Pails clang .... Scrubbers work, talking in foreign tongues. Broom and 

water and mop clean from the floors human dust and spit, and machine 

grime of the day. 
Spelled in electric fire on the roof are words telling miles of houses and people 

where to by a thing for money. The sign speaks till midnight. 

Darkness on the hallways. Voices echo. Silence holds .... Watchmen walk 
slow from floor to floor and try the doors. Revolvers bulge from their hip 
pockets .... Steel safes stand in corners. Money is stacked in them. 

A young watchman leans at a window and sees the lights of barges butting 
their way across a harbor, nets of red and white lanterns in a railroad yard, 
and a span of glooms splashed with lines of white and blurs of crosses and 
clusters over the sleeping city. 

By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and stars and has a soul. 


I am the people— the mob— the crowd— the mass. 

Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me? 

I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and clothes. 

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and 

the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and 

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. 

Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and 

wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work 

and give up what I have. And I forget. 
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to 

remember. Then— I forget. 
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons 

of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played 

me for a fool— then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: 

"The People," with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile 

of derision. 
The mob— the crowd— the mass— will arrive then. 




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