Edgar Lee Masters’ "Doctor Meyers"
Edgar Lee Masters Stamp
Spoon River Anthology
This volume includes all the Spoon River epitaphs.
Edgar Lee Masters’ “Doctor Meyers” from Spoon River Anthology is an American sonnet that innovatively begins with a couplet and then moves through the poem in four tercets.
The doctor's involvement in Minerva's situation deepens the drama and helps to fill out the characterization of the participants in this sordid event.
Couplet: “No other man, unless it was Doc Hill”
“Doctor Meyers” continues the “Minerva” series in the third installment of this mini-drama. In the opening couplet, Doctor Meyers informs his listeners that he “did more for people of this town” than anyone else, with the possible exception of “Doc Hill.”
A first impression taken from a cynical point of view might suppose that the character of Doctor Meyers resembles that of a braggart. But because he reckons that another doctor might have done more for the people, the reader is likely to conclude that Doctor Meyers’ testimony is accurate and evenhanded.
First Tercet: “And all the weak, the halt, the improvident”
The speaker describes his medical practice as a sympathetic one that cared for “all the weak, the halt, the improvident.” And additionally, the sick ones “who could not pay” found Doctor Meyers helpful and accommodating as well.
The doctor says that he was “good-hearted, easy Doctor Meyers,” and he is proffering the thoughts of those he had served. Again, a cynical view could be taken, but, in fact, he must have provided helpful services to those in need; otherwise, there is no explaining why patients “flocked to” him.
Second Tercet: “I was healthy, happy, in comfortable fortune”
The doctor then reports the quality of his life, which has been “healthy, happy, in comfortable fortune.” He had been “blest with a congenial mate,” and their children were successful and all married. Doctor Meyers had achieved the success for which most people strive.
This description of his life reveals one who has done his duty without deceiving or undermining others in his zeal to thrive. Such a person deserves to live out his life in peace and tranquility—or so it would seem.
Third Tercet: “And then one night, Minerva, the poetess”
But then the doctor’s fate took an unhealthy turn, when “one night, Minerva, the poetess, / Came to [him] in her trouble, crying.” He attempted to “help her out,” but “she died.”
In the first poem of the series, the reader had learned that Minerva had gone to Doctor Meyers after becoming impregnated with “Butch” Weldy’s child; Minerva reports that she died after treatment by Doctor Meyers.
Fourth Tercet: “They indicted me, the newspapers disgraced me”
Because abortion was illegal at that time, “they indicted [him].” And the “newspapers disgraced [him].” His poor wife “perished of a broken heart.” And then finally, Doctor Meyers died of “pneumonia.”
Without the next poem, “Mrs. Meyers,” number 4 in this series which offers testimony from the doctor’s wife, the reader might remain of the mind that Doctor Meyers did not deserve his fate, but Mrs. Meyers puts things in their proper perspective. Even so, the reader will continue to feel a certain amount of pity for this poor physician.
The second installment of this series features Minerva's father, "'Indignation' Jones".
Recitation of Masters' "Doctor Meyers"
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes