Edgar Lee Masters’ "Frank Drummer" and "Hare Drummer"
Edgar Lee Masters
Spoon River Anthology
This collection includes "Frank Drummer" and "Hare Drummer."
Introduction: “Frank Drummer”
Although the reader never learns to what specific goals he aspired, Frank reveals that he at least thought himself capable of achieving great things. He demonstrates an intense emotional make-up that was likely responsible for his landing in jail.
Reading of "Frank Drummer"
First Movement: “Out of a cell into this darkened space”
Frank reports that he died in jail and was immediately introduced to the grave, “this darkened space”—and at the young age of twenty-five. His emotion was so strong that he could not even speak, and thus the town “thought me a fool.”
Frank, of course, sees himself as one destined for high achievement, but instead he committed some crime that brought him low.
Second Movement: “Yet at the start there was a clear vision”
However, early on in this life, his mind was bright and his soul possessed “[a] high and urgent purpose.” That high purpose motivated him to try to “memorize / The Encyclopedia Britannica!”
Frank's evaluation of his own ability demonstrates that he was not in touch with reality. He thinks that memorizing an book of information was enough to support his contention that he was clear-minded and had "high purpose."
Introduction: “Hare Drummer”
Hare asks a series of questions, seeking to learn how things have continued on after his death. That question format is reminiscent of A. E. Housman's "Is my team ploughing," in which dead man asks for a report about how things are going now that he has died.
Reading of "Hare Drummer"
First Movement: “Do the boys and girls still go to Siever’s”
Hare begins by asking if the young folk “still go to Siever’s / For cider, after school, in late September?” He continues with his second question, asking if they still “gather hazel nuts among the thickets” on the farm owned by Aaron Hatfield “when the frost begins.”
Hare’s purpose in questioning seems quite innocent, as if he is merely curious about the continuation of life as he had seen it. And his questions and comments simply paint a portrait of simple, pastoral life including farms, hills, trees, cold weather, and “quiet water.”
Second Movement: “For many times with the laughing girls and boys”
Hare then offers the explanation that he had accompanied “the laughing girls and boys” as they all “played [ ] along the road and over the hills.” He remembers how they would knock down walnuts from the tree which stood “leafless against the flaming west.”
Third Movement: “Now, the smell of the autumn smoke”
Intimating that he now smells “autumn smoke” and acorns drop on his grave, he dramatizes how “echoes about the vales / Bring dreams of life.” His memory abounds with sights and sounds that he experienced when he was alive. These dreams and experiences “hover over me,” he asserts.
Fourth Movement: “They question me”
And just as Hare questions some phantom audience, he is questioned by the same phantoms. They want to know how many of his former playmates are with him and how many are still making their way through “the old orchards along the way to Siever’s.” And he also wonders how many still visit “the woods that overlook / The quiet water.”
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes