Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Edgar Lee Masters Petit, the Poet 1915


In 1914, Edgar Lee Masters 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. Petit, the Poet is one of the poems in the anthology.

"Petit, the Poet" (1915), one of the best of Masters' nonjudgmental epitaphs, speaks the poet's after-death faith in the lines, "Life all around me here in the village." A repetitious craftsman (tick, tick, tick), Petit, named for the smallness of his vision, regrets the "little iambics" of his life's work. To characterize spiritual poverty and poetic tedium, Masters imprisons elegant verse style in a confining "dry pod." To further minimize the "triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus, / Ballades by the score," the simile "like mites in a quarrel" reduces them to ridicule. When his spirit is freed from the outworn snows and roses of Horace and Fran├žois Villon, Petit is at last able to hear "Homer and Whitman" roaring in the pines. Cliff's Notes

Petit, the Poet

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?

Lowry alludes to Master's poem in Chapter 3 of his first novel Ultramarine when Dana say to Popplereuter ; "Consequently I have in me an inborn craving for the unrest of the sea....Oh, but this craving was not, is not conscious enough, as Petit the poet said, intellectually diluted into a vague, intangible wanderlust" Pg. 96.

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