Reflections on a life: The Spoon River Anthology

The Spoon River Anthology is a fascinating collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters. The conceit is simple; the poet moves through a graveyard and the lives and regrets of villagers are told in poetic form. Each poem has a clear voice and the interplay between the characters is fascinating.

Amongst the most moving poems for me is that of George Grey. The narrator speaks of the anguish caused by his lack of engagement. Fear of failure or hurt holds us back and can prevent us from realising our potential and achieving happiness. Any enterprise we undertake will have the potential to go wrong but it is from our mistakes and experiences that we achieve actualisation.

George Grey - from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

I have studied many times 
The marble which was chiseled for me— 
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor. 
In truth it pictures not my destination 
But my life.     
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment; 
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid; 
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. 
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life. 
And now I know that we must lift the sail  
And catch the winds of destiny 
Wherever they drive the boat. 
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.


 

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