Thursday, August 21, 2014

Two Poems from The Spoon River Anthology

'Amanda Barker'

One of the more shocking of Masters' poems is that of 'Amanda Barker.' Let's read the poem and then look at what it means.

Amanda Barker
Henry got me with child,
Knowing that I could not bring forth life
Without losing my own.
In my youth therefore I entered the portals of dust.
Traveler, it is believed in the village where I lived
That Henry loved me with a husband's love
But I proclaim from the dust
That he slew me to gratify his hatred.

Like the other poems in the anthology, this poem is named for its narrator, in this case, a woman named Amanda Barker. The second and third lines, '...I could not bring forth life/Without losing my own,' tell us that she died in childbirth. But that's not the interesting part. The really interesting part is that her husband, Henry, intentionally made her pregnant even though he knew that she would not survive childbirth!

She says that the townspeople all believe that her husband loved her like any husband, but she says that he 'slew' her - meaning that he murdered her - 'to gratify his hatred.' In other words, he got away with the perfect murder: if your wife has been told that she'll die in childbirth, get her pregnant, and when she dies, everyone will think that you were a loving husband instead of a murderer.
The poem brings up an important theme, and one that is common in the anthology: that you can't know the secrets of your neighbors. They might seem like good people, but they might not be. When this poem was published, it shocked readers because of the idea that the very people they knew might be harboring secrets like this one.

'Deacon Taylor'

Let's look at another poem from The Spoon River Anthology. This one, 'Deacon Taylor,' isn't about murder, but it too deals with the theme of secrets.

Deacon Taylor 

I belonged to the church,
And to the party of prohibition;
And the villagers thought I died of eating watermelon.
In truth I had cirrhosis of the liver,
For every noon for thirty years,
I slipped behind the prescription partition
In Trainor's drug store
And poured a generous drink
From the bottle marked 'Spiritus frumenti.

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