This poem was published in Masters’ best-known collection, Spoon River Anthology. The publication includes some truly unique poems, all of which are written in the form of epitaphs, delivered by the dead person who they’re about. In this case, the real-life character Anne Rutledge is describing her own life and intentions from the afterlife.
Anne Rutledge Edgar Lee MastersOut of me unworthy and unknownThe vibrations of deathless music;“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,And the beneficent face of a nationShining with justice and truth.I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,Wedded to him, not through union,But through separation.Bloom forever, O Republic,From the dust of my bosom!
Explore Anne Rutledge
The Real Anne Rutledge
The poet based this poem around the life of Rutledge, someone who has been cited as Abraham Lincoln’s first love. He lived in Springfield, close to where Masters grew up and fell in love with her at a young age. This poem alludes to their love and how it never really came into being. Today, Masters’ poem is on Anne Rutledge’s gravestone.
‘Anne Rutledge’ by Edgar Lee Masters is a short poem that honors the life of Anne Rutledge.
Written in first person, Anne Rutledge narrates her life from beyond the grave. Having already died, she has a new perspective on her life that she was unlikely to have had access to previously. She knows how important Lincoln was to her and to the country and feels the same passion he does for the United States’ future. She makes this very clear as she alludes to her grave, the country itself, and her relationship (or lack thereof) with Lincoln.
The main theme of this poem is how ideals shape a country, even after death. The speaker knows she’s not someone that the nation knows, but her hopes and dreams for the country’s future are strong, so strong that she hopes they are emanating from her grave and providing life and inspiration to all those still living.
Structure and Form
‘Anne Rutledge’ by Edgar Lee Masters is a twelve-line poem that is written in block form, meaning that the poet fits all the lines into a single stanza without line breaks. The poem is quite short so it makes sense to combine all the lines into a single stanza. They are all part of the same speech/epitaph, so that, too, likely inspired the form.
The poet chose to write this piece in free verse. This means that the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. For example, the first four lines end with “unknown,” “music,” “all,” and “millions.”
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. These include:
- Allusion: a reference to something outside the direct scope of a poem. In this case, the poet alludes to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The poet also quotes Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address with the line, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “But” and “Bloom” in lines ten and eleven.
- Personification: the use of strictly human characteristics in order to describe something non-human, for example, “the beneficent face of a nation” in line five.
- Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse. For instance, “Wedded to him, not through union.”
Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker (Anne Rutledge) begins by saying that from her body, out of her soul/being, a “deathless music” emanates. It’s a song/speech/line of verse that is never going to die. She feels unworthy of having any part in it, but her love for Lincoln makes her feel connected to him and his intentions for the country.
The poet quotes a famous line from Lincoln’s second inaugural address in the third line of the poem. It promotes kindness towards everyone and cruelty to no one. This is something that Anne clearly believed in as well.
She continues to describe how this feeling/belief she shared about the nation with Lincoln comes out of her, as does the “forgiveness of millions toward millions.” Here, she alludes to the Civil War and how the country was never going to go on if the “millions” on one side could not forgive the “millions” on the other, and vice versa. She reiterates the type of nation she hopes her country is evolving towards in the fifth and sixth lines before speaking about herself more personally in the next few lines.
I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!
In the final lines, the speaker names herself using first-person pronouns and connects herself to the life of Lincoln. She notes that he was “Beloved in the life of Abraham Lincoln” but not wedded to him. This indicates the unrealized nature of their love. History is unclear on whether or not the two were ever a couple, but clearly, Masters chose to go the route of the two never really being together.
The two are connected “through separation,” she adds. This may indicate that something came between them (maybe time, distance, or war), and the two were connected by their affection for one another and how far apart they were.
Anne has passed away, she accepts, and she hopes that Lincoln’s dream, which was also her dream of a united nation, blooms from her “dust” like flowers and lasts forever. This is a beautiful final image that asks readers to imagine dust turning into flowering life and the whole life cycle starting over and over again.
This lesser-known Masters’ poem is an epitaph or words that are written in memory of someone who has passed away. Epitaphs are often inscribed on gravestones. This specific poem was later inscribed on Anne Rutledge’s grave in Illinois.
The purpose of this poem is to speak of the continuing belief in an equal, just nation that lasts beyond a single person’s lifetime. The speaker hopes that her life helped the country in some way and her life will help bloom a more just world in the future.
Anne Rutledge was a young woman that Abraham Lincoln knew in his youth and with whom he purportedly fell in love, and she in return. It’s unclear whether or not the two ever had a proper relationship.
This epitaph poem was included in Masters’ well-known book, Spoon River Anthology, based on the area he grew up in (nearby to where Lincoln spent some of his youth).
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Edgar Lee Masters poems. For example:
- ‘Fletcher McGee’ – a confessional-style epitaph about a man named Fletcher McGee.
- ‘Archibald Higbie’ – another epitaph that was written about and delivered from the perspective of someone who lived and died in Spoon River.
- ‘Carl Hamblin’ – one of the best poems Masters wrote. It explores how the title character ended up tarred and feathered.