Although not generally thought of as one of the moderns, Edgar Lee Masters (1868 - 1950) was part of the "poetic renaissance" that took place in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century. Other names from this group were Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay. Good company.
A prolific writer, Masters will probably always only be remembered as the author of Spoon River Anthology. In her Introduction to the 1975 Collier edition, May Swenson describes the work thus: "All in the cast are dead - 'all, all are sleeping on the hill' of a Midwestern cemetery - and from their graves they speak their own epitaphs, discovering and confessing the real motivations of their lives; they reveal the secret steps that stumbled them to failure, or raised them to illusionary triumphs while alive; it is as if the darkness of the grave granted them reveletory eyes for a recognition of their own souls."
The style was plain and earthy, but it suits the characters of the Midwest well. These are the kind of people who cleared the land and settled the country. Their poetry came in the form of the oxen struggling at the plough, the cow grazing in the meadow, a newborn's wail in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter. The selection we look at is a recitation of the life of Masters' grandmother, here called Matlock.
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.