Search for Truth in Edgar Lee Masters
Oftentimes, the poems that are related “speak” to one another and give the reader efferent perspectives on the same issue. By doing this, the poetic elements of the related poems act to change and contribute to the themes of each other. “Benjamin Panties” and “Mrs.
. Benjamin Panties” are two poems In the anthology that, when read individually, seem to have separate themes, but when read together speak to each other in an “argument and response” manner. Through an explication of the two poems, it can be seen that Benjamin Panther and Mrs..
Benjamin Panther both feel betrayed, but their differing perspectives change the reader’s Initial Impression of sympathy for both characters to one of questioning for truth. The form of the two poems Is free verse In that there Is no strict rhyme or meter. This style Is very beneficial In getting the themes of the two poems across In a very effective way. Free verse works well In getting these themes across because the poet Is not as “trapped” In a specific form.
This develops the themes of the two poems In a much more relatable manner since both poems deal with problems that most people can relate to such as friendship, betrayal, marriage, and loneliness. Adding to this discussion of Masters’ style of writing, Emilio Tolerated states that “halls lines stir up a very human otter, made up of conciseness, hardness, and classic rhythms; he Is clear-sighted, sometimes satirical, always brilliant and direct” (Talented 46).
This Is a very Insightful critique, especially In his assertion that Masters’ delivery Is very human and direct because this allows the average reader to get Into the mind of the characters and genuinely relate to their themes. In “Benjamin Panther” the theme Is that companionship Is necessary to live a happy life, even If It Is with a dog, especially when you have a miserable relationship with your wife and there Is no one else to turn to. On the other hand, the theme of “Mrs..
Benjamin Panther” Is that you cannot always trust people based on what they say and how people perceive them, and It Is wrong to Judge because sometimes seemingly Irrational decisions have a listened explanation. Free verse “Benjamin Panties” helps to develop the sincerity to his relationship with his dog, Nigh, and shows how he has become indifferent to the world. The free verse acts almost like a letter to the reader trying to express the struggles he faced at the end of his life. This is not to imply that there are not some intentional stresses in the poems.
For example, Benjamin Panties says “our story is lost in silence. Go by, mad world! ” (“B. P. ” 12). There is definitely a stress on this last phrase which is important to his argument because it makes his assertion much more resonant and memorable. “Mrs.. Benjamin Panties” is also written in free verse in what appears to be an outright reply to Benjamin poem. She is very candidly expressing the problems she has with her husband, problems that she notes many people do not see from the surface.
This helps to bring up a connected theme among the two poems which is that marriage is more complicated than it seems on the surface and requires insight into the situation of the husband and wife to understand the true nature of a relationship. While the order of these two poems, in the anthology, may not seem that important, it can be very helpful in discerning how the themes speak to each other, and how they are shaped in the reader’s mind. It is no coincidence that “Benjamin Panties” is the first poem because it introduces this character as being someone completely without a human friend and who has given up on life.
The line “our story is lost in silence. Go by, mad world! ” (“B. P. ” 12) is very important in showing that Benjamin did not feel that people understood his desperation and that his story is often lost. This leads directly into “Mrs.. Benjamin Panties” where she contradicts most everything her husband has asserted in the previous poem and says “all the men loved him/and most of the women pitied him! ” (“M. B. P. ” 3-4). Mrs.. Panties is very effectively calling Benjamin argument into question by saying that these concerns for him are false and unjustified.
Initially, Benjamin poem seems very sad and the reader takes pity with him until reading the next poem. What Masters has done so well is in setting up the second poem while the previous one is still in the reader’s mind. This acts to alter Benjamin theme room one of solitude that is uncontrolled to one of solitude that is brought on by himself as a result of not appreciating his wife. The occurrence of a very similar idea found in both poems, but with different implications, prove to cause conflict among their individual themes.
In both poems there is a brief mention of alcohol, but the context in which both are used are completely different. Benjamin Panties says “… L was alone/with Nigh for partner, bed- fellow, comrade in drink” (“B. P. ” 4-5), which implies that the only friend he had to drink with was his dog, and, once again, makes the reader feel sorry for him. On the other hand, Mrs.. Benjamin Panties points out that she “loathe(s) the smell of whiskey and onions” (“M. B. P. ” 6), which shows that she saw the alcohol as one of the problems that pulled her and her husband apart.
While this may not seem important to the connection of the two poems, it is very significant because it shows that Benjamin fall from glory into solitude could be of his own making. On the other hand, the issue of alcohol in Benjamin poem could alter Mrs.. Pannier’s theme because the argument could be made that Mrs.. Panties drove her husband to alcohol because of her failure o be a good wife and constant companion. So, in a very interesting way this mention of alcohol creates a sense of ambiguity in both poems and gets the reader to question to r an Mrs..
Pannier’s argument, while contributing to the reader’s interpretation of both of the themes. In these two poems, Masters uses devices of sound and poetic diction very effectively to set the tone and advance the arguments of the poems. In “Benjamin Panties” there is both alliteration and a hyperbole in the line “then she, who survives me, snared my soul with a snare which bled me to death” (“B. P. ” 7-8). A line very similar to this is found in “Mrs.. Benjamin Panties” as she is Justifying her reasons for being a seemingly bad wife.
This constant repetition of the hard “s” sound turns the alliteration into onomatopoeia that sounds almost like a snake hissing when the poem is read aloud. This sets the very somber tone of the poem which is reflected by Benjamin solitude and “loss of soul” which he blames on his wife. In addition to setting this tone, the fact that Benjamin uses these negative words in direct reference to his wife strengthens his argument in the eyes of the reader because they now associate this snakelike sound and deathly scene with the fife’s cold attitude towards her husband.
An example of how poetic diction helps set tone can be seen in the word “dingy’ used in both poems to express the room Benjamin was forced to live in by his wife. The word implies a very unclean and nasty environment and is used near the end of both poems to leave the reader with a sense of the unclean nature of their relationship. It is significant that the same adjective is used to describe the room in both poems because it implies for Benjamin how bad his life has become, and for Mrs.. Panties how disgusted she was with him to force him to live in such a place.
There is a very unique example of irony found in the two poems, which is brought out when they are directly compared. Both Mr.. And Mrs.. Panties make mention of the law in their poems, but in very different ways. Benjamin Panties mentions at the very beginning of his poem that he is an attorney at law. This shows that Mr.. Panties has a good education and a clear understanding of the law. Mrs.. Panties also directly mentions the law but in reference to their marriage by stating “the only man with whom the law and morality/permit you to have the marital relation/is the very man that fills you with disgust” (“M.
B. P. ” 13-15). What comes across as ironic in this cross- reference is that Mrs.. Panties names both law and morality as the reasons why she cannot escape the unhappy marriage. Since Mr.. Panties is a lawyer, he can be seen as a man who upholds the law and has to maintain a certain level of moral integrity in his profession. Mrs.. Pannier’s assertion against the law and morality could, in fact, be another way of associating blame to her husband for her being trapped in a bad marriage.
Masters’ background had a lot to do with the types of poems and themes he dealt with in Spoon River Anthology. Literary critic Stephen Cushman says that Masters “was cursed with the need to search all his life for the love his mother failed to give him and doomed not to recognize genuine love, since he had been deprived of it in the most fundamental stages of his existence, and we can concur in his Judgment that such a fate would ultimately play itself out in a life involving many women and many wanderings until, his physical energies exhausted, he would end old and alone. (Cushman 162). This description of Masters helps a great deal in giving a deeper meaning as to why he wrote so many poems about unhappy marriages that ended in loneliness. Since he did not experience much love early in his life, these themes to loneliness and blame taunt in the Panniers could be a way tort him to express how he felt. It is very important to see that there are other sets of poems in Spoon River Anthology that speak to each other about unhappy marriages through differing perspectives.
In the poems “Lie McGee” and “Fletcher McGee,” this husband and wife both tell of how one made the other’s life miserable. Lie claims that Fletcher took her youth and beauty in life, while Fletcher claims that Lie drained the life out of him during her life and continued to haunt him after her death. Another pair of poems that display this theme of an unhappy marriage and leave the reader to question who is telling the truth is “Rose Parallel” and “Mrs.. Parallel. ” Rose wants out of his marriage and attempts to get out if by disappearing for a year, but Mrs..
Parakeet refuses to get a divorce. Both sets of poems are very similar to the Panniers in the sense that nobody in these marriages can escape their unhappiness in life, and all of them ultimately die very upset with their spouses. The unhappy marriage of the Panniers does not stand alone in the small town of Spoon River in vying the reader different perspectives on unsuccessful marriages. While Spoon River Anthology contains many pairs of poems that “speak” to each other, “Benjamin Panties” and “Mrs..
Benjamin Panties” are two that significantly change the meaning of each other’s themes. Standing alone, each poem invokes sympathy in the reader because Benjamin has no human friends and his wife feels trapped in a miserable marriage. Analyzing these two poems together brings out a connected theme among the poems that both Mr.. And Mrs.. Panties feel betrayed, but their differing perspectives change the reader’s initial impression and force them to either choose one character’s argument or find some middle ground in their quest for the truth.