Usstamp-edgar lee masters

Edgar Lee Masters, U.S. stamp, 1970. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Edgar Lee Masters
Born August 23, 1868
Garnett, Kansas, U.S.[1]
Died March 5, 1950 (aged 81)
Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation Poet, Biographer, Lawyer

Edgar Lee Masters (August 23, 1868 - March 5, 1950) was an American poet, biographer, and dramatist. He is best known as the author of Spoon River Anthology. In all, Masters published 12 plays, 21 books of poetry, 6 novels, and 6 biographies, including those of Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Vachel Lindsay, and Walt Whitman.


Masters was born to Emma J. (Dexter) and Hardin Wallace Masters in Garnett, Kansas, where his father had briefly moved to set up a law practice. The family soon moved back to his paternal grandparents' farm near Petersburg in Menard County, Illinois.

In 1880 they moved to Lewistown, Illinois, where Edwin attended high school and had his earlist publication, in the Chicago Daily News. The culture around Lewistown, in addition to the town's cemetery at Oak Hill, and the nearby Spoon River were the inspirations for many of his works, most notably Spoon River Anthology, his most famous and acclaimed work.

From 1889 to 1890 Masters attended The Knox Academy, a defunct preparatory program run by Knox College, Illinois, but was forced to leave due to his family's inability to finance his education.[1]

After working in his father's law office, he was admitted to the Illinois bar and moved to Chicago, where he established a law partnership with Kickham Scanlan in 1893. He married twice. In 1898, he married Helen M. Jenkins, the daughter of a lawyer in Chicago, and had 3 children. During his law partnership with Clarence Darrow, from 1903 to 1908, Masters defended the poor. In 1911, he started his own law firm, despite the 3 years of unrest (1908-1911) due to extramarital affairs and an argument with Darrow.

Masters died at a nursing home on March 5, 1950, in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, aged 81.[2] He is buried in Oakland cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois. His epitaph includes his poem, "To-morrow is My Birthday" from Toward the Gulf (1918):

Good friends, let's to the fields ...
After a little walk and by your pardon,
I think I'll sleep, there is no sweeter thing.
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep.

I am a dream out of a blessed sleep-
Let's walk, and hear the lark.

Family historyEdit

Edgar's father was Hardin Wallace Masters, whose father was Squire Davis Masters, whose father was Thomas Masters, whose father was Hillery Masters, and his father was Robert Masters who was born c.1715 in Prince Georges County, Maryland.

2 of his children followed him with literary careers. His daughter Marcia pursued poetry, while his son, Hilary Masters, became a novelist. Hilary and his half-brother Hardin wrote a memoir of their father.[3]


Masters originally published his early poems and essays under the pseudonym Dexter Wallace (after his mother's maiden name and his father's middle name) until the year 1903, when he joined the law firm of Clarence Darrow.

Masters began developing as a notable American poet in 1914 , when he began a series of poems (this time under the pseudonym Webster Ford) about his childhood experiences in Western Illinois, which appeared in Reedy's Mirror, a St. Louis publication. In 1915 the series was bound into a volume and re-titled Spoon River Anthology. Years later, he wrote a memorable and invaluable account of the book's background and genesis, his working methods and influences, as well as its reception by the critics, favorable and hostile, in an autobiographical article notable for its human warmth and general interest. [4]

Though he never matched the success of Spoon River Anthology, Masters was a prolific writer of diverse works. He published several other volumes of poems.

Quotations Edit

  • "To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
    But life without meaning is the torture
    Of restlessness and vague desire--
    It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid."


Masters was awarded the Mark Twain Silver Medal in 1936, the Poetry Society of America medal in 1941, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1942, and the Shelley Memorial Award in 1944.



  • A Book of Verses. Way & Williams, 1898.
  • The Blood of the Prophets (as "Dexter Wallace"). Rooks, 1905.
  • Songs and Sonnets (as "Webster Ford"). Rooks, 1910.
  • Songs and Sonnets: Second series (as "Webster Ford"). Rooks, 1912.
  • Spoon River Anthology (originally published in Reedy's Mirror, by "Webster Ford"). New York: Macmillan, 1915
    • enlarged edition, 1916; new edition, 1944.
  • Songs and Satires. New York: Macmillan, 1916.
  • The Great Valley. New York: Macmillan, 1916.
  • Toward the Gulf. New York: Macmillan, 1918.
  • Starved Rock. New York: Macmillan, 1919.
  • Domesday Book (long poem). New York: Macmillan, 1920.
  • The Open Sea. New York: Macmillan, 1921.
  • The New Spoon River. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1924.
  • Selected Poems. New York: Macmillan, 1925.
  • Lee: A dramatic poem. New York: Macmillan, 1926.
  • Jack Kelso: A dramatic poem. New York: Appleton, 1928.
  • The Fate of the Jury: An epilogue to Domesday Book (long poem). New York: Appleton, 1929.
  • Lichee Nuts. New York: Liveright, 1930.
  • Godbey: A dramatic poem. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931.
  • The Serpent in the Wilderness. Sheldon Dick, 1933.
  • Richmond: A dramatic poem. Samuel French, 1934.
  • Invisible Landscapes. New York: Macmillan, 1935.
  • Poems of People. New York: Appleton-Century, 1936.
  • The Golden Fleece of California. Countryman, 1936.
  • The New World. New York: Appleton-Century, 1937.
  • More People. New York: Appleton-Century, 1939.
  • Illinois Poems. James A. Decker, 1941.
  • Along the Illinois. James A. Decker, 1942.
  • Poems (selected and edited by Denys Thompson). London: Chatto & Windus, 1972.
  • The Harmony of Deeper Music: Posthumous poems of Edgar Lee Masters (edited by Frank K. Robinson). Austin, TX: Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 1976.
  • The Enduring River: Edgar Lee Masters's uncollected Spoon River poems (edited by Herbert K. Russell). Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.
  • Spoon River Anthology: An annotated edition (edited by John E. Hallwas). University of Illinois Press, 1992.


  • Maximilian: A play in five acts. Badger, 1902.
  • Althea: A play in four acts. Rooks, 1907.
  • The Trifler: A play. Rooks, 1908.
  • The Leaves of the Tree: A play. Rooks, 1909.
  • Eileen: A play in three acts. Rooks, 1910.
  • The Locket: A play in three acts. Rooks, 1910.
  • The Tread of Idleness: A play in rour acts. Rooks, 1911.
  • Gettysburg, Manila, Acoma (3 plays). New York: Liveright, 1930.
  • Dramatic Duologues: Four Short Plays in Verse. Samuel French, 1934.


  • Mitch Miller. New York: Macmillan, 1920.
  • Children of the Market Place. New York: Macmillan, 1922.
  • Skeeters Kirby. New York: Macmillan, 1923.
  • The Nuptial Flight. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1923.
  • Mirage. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1924.
  • Kit O'Brien. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1927.
  • The Tide of Time. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1937.
  • The Sangamon. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1942.


  • The New Star Chamber, and other essays. Hammersmark, 1904.
  • Levy Mayer and the New Industrial Era (biography), Yale University Press, 1927.
  • Lincoln: The Man. Dodd, Mead, 1931.
  • The Tale of Chicago. Putnam, 1933.
  • Vachel Lindsay: A poet in America. Scribners, 1935.
  • Across Spoon River: An autobiography. Farrar & Rinehart, 1936.
  • Whitman. Scribners, 1937.
  • Hymn to the Unknown God. New Age Ministry of Religious Research, ca. 1937.
  • Mark Twain: A portrait. Scribners, 1938.


  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Living Thoughts of Emerson. Longmans, Green, 1940.
  • Hardin W. Masters, Edgar Lee Masters: A centenary memoir-anthology (contributor). A.S. Barnes for the Poetry Society of America, 1972.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[5]

See alsoEdit

The Hill - Edgar Lee Masters - Poem - Animation

The Hill - Edgar Lee Masters - Poem - Animation




  1. 1.0 1.1 Edgar Lee Masters
  2. Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 206. ISBN 0-19-503186-5
  3. Edgar Lee Masters bio
  4. Edgar Lee Masters, "The Spoon River Anthology," American Mercury, v. 28, no. 109 (January 1933) 38-55.
  5. Edgar Lee Masters 1868-1950, Poetry Foundation, Web, Apr. 7, 2012.

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