21. Edgar Lee Masters’ "Minerva Jones"
Edgar Lee Masters
Introduction and Text of Poem, "Minerva Jones"
Edgar Lee Masters’ "Minerva Jones" from the Spoon River Anthology dramatizes the report of an utterly wretched young woman who succumbed to an abortion procedure. This epitaph is the first in a series of five interrelated poems: "'Indignation' Jones," "Doctor Meyers," "Mrs. Meyers," and "'Butch' Weldy."
I am Minerva, the village poetess,
Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk,
And all the more when "Butch" Weldy
Captured me after a brutal hunt.
He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers;
And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up,
Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice.
Will some one go to the village newspaper,
And gather into a book the verses I wrote?—
I thirsted so for love!
I hungered so for life!
First Movement: "I am Minerva, the village poetess"
Minerva proudly proclaims, "I am Minerva, the village poetess," but she then immediately announces that she was "Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street."
Likening the boorish individuals of the village to the Swiftian characters, "the Yahoos," in Gulliver’s Travels, she demonstrates that she is, in fact, acquainted with classic literary works and that she deems herself above her fellow citizens of Spoon River.
These "Yahoos" taunted poor Minerva because of her "heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk." And these characteristics were only exacerbated by her pregnancy, as she reveals when she asserts, "And all the more when "'Butch' Weldy / Captured me after a brutal hunt."
Minerva describes her relationship with "Butch" Weldy as a "brutal hunt" after which he "captured" her. This description indicates that she is now attempting to portray herself as a victim, in order to excuse her own deeds: he hunted her, he captured her.
But she does not indicate that he raped her, although she tries to imply as much. Quite likely, she was a willing participant in the creation of their child, but now she attempting to excuse her own behavior—a typical response of many of the Spoon River residents to their own flaws.
Second Movement: "He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers"
Minerva then reveals that Butch "left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers." By admitting that he "left" her, she inadvertently admits that they were, in fact, a couple. Women do not complain that their rapist has "left" them; they lament that they were raped.
So after being abandoned by her baby’s father, Minerva attempts to address her issue by seeking out a doctor who is willing to kill her unborn child, "He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers"—and her fate with the good Doctor Meyers results in her death.
Minerva describes the dying process as a spreading paralysis from her "feet up / Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice."
Third Movement: "Will some one go to the village newspaper"
With no mention of the baby’s death, Minerva’s thoughts turn to her "verses" which were published in the "village newspaper." She wonders if someone will visit the newspaper office to collect her verses and publish them in a book. Her selfishness and disingenuousness know no bounds.
Fourth Movement: "I thirsted so for love!"
Minerva’s final flourish reveals the epitome of irony: she "thirsted so for love!" Might she not have had much love to give and receive from the child she has so brutally murdered? She "hungered so for life!" Not the life of her unborn baby, however.
Minerva reveals herself to be one of the most despicable, soulless characters of Spoon River. She rivals Hillary Clinton in her duplicity and crookedness. After losing her life, Minerva is now asking for someone to collect her verse into a book to demonstrate that what happened to her was a great tragedy because she "thirsted so for love!" and "hungered so for life!"
The "Minerva Jones" sequence:
Interpretive Reading of "Minerva Jones"
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes