Conrad Siever

Edgar Lee Masters


Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters was an American poet.

He is best remembered for his Spoon River Anthology.

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters is a lament on the dead-end of the gay summer. Autumn is the theme of the poem and how it changes the natural landscape. The poet’s mood is gloomy when he talks about his surroundings where only death and decay reigns. The garden is marooned with plants. Only the Northern-spy apple tree survives. Beneath it, the poet sits and composed this heartfelt verse on the impact of the fall season.

Conrad Siever by Edgar Lee Masters


Summary of Conrad Siever

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters presents the liveliness of the northern-spy apple tree and the impact of autumn on the surroundings.

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters is a poem based on the theme of autumn. Death and decay features from the beginning of the poem. The poet feels for the withering trees and rotting plants the farm has turned into a graveyard. But, the poet isn’t sitting there. He sits under the northern-spy apple tree which still has its time. Winter is not far ahead. Then everything will be changed, even the poet’s favorite apple tree. However, at last, the poet feels satisfied with the red apples that he can still enjoy at that time of the year and imagines those apples to be the “living epitaphs” of the northern-spy.


Structure of Conrad Siever

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters comprises one long stanza that is written in a flow that doesn’t halt in the middle. It is like a single flow of emotions that originates in the poet’s heart. There are a total of 17 lines in the poem with uneven line lengths. The short and long lines collectively depict the state of the poet’s mind, his sighs, and his breathing pattern after seeing the autumnal landscape.

The poem is in free verse. There is not any regular rhyme scheme in the poem. However, some lines show an irregular type of rhyming pattern. The poet mostly uses iambic meter for emphasizing the second syllable of the feet. However, in some cases, the poet also uses the trochaic meter and comparably long anapestic meter for bringing out a mood of gloominess and sadness in the poem.


Literary Devices

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters begins with a litote and makes it clear that the poet is not in that “wasted garden”. Thereafter the poet employs the most important literary device of modern verse, the enjambment. By using it the poet connects the lines of the poem internally. However, some other devices can be visible in the second line. Here the poet uses a metaphor of dead bodies to compare it with the dying trees during autumn. The poet uses personification for giving life to the trees of that garden. In the third and fourth lines of the poem, the poet uses anaphora.

In the following section, “vainer dreams” is a metaphor. It refers to the underlying pessimism of the autumn season. The poet uses irony while talking about the “departed souls” with whom communion is not possible. The line, “I loved and watched and pruned” presents a polysyndeton. In the next line, “gnarled hands” is a metonymy. A palilogy is there in the repeated use of “long” in the following line. In the last few lines, the poet uses metaphors in these phrases, “chemic change”, “circle of life”, and “living epitaphs”. The “living epitaphs” is an oxymoron and the use of the phrase in the line is also paradoxical. It refers to the future of the apple tree.


Analysis of Conrad Siever

Lines 1–4

Not in that wasted garden

Where bodies are drawn into grass

That feeds no flocks, and into evergreens

That bear no fruit —

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters introduces the decaying natural landscape of a farm. The poet begins the poem with a negation. He is not there in between the “wasted garden” where the dead plants are drooping on the grass. The plants that are no more. There is no flock enjoying those sappy plants and the evergreen forest that bears no fruit. The poet is watching the scene from a distance and thinks about the effect of autumn on lives as a whole.


Lines 5–8

There where along the shaded walks

Vain sighs are heard,

And vainer dreams are dreamed

Of close communion with departed souls —

The next section shifts the focus from the farm to the sidewalks where men pass by and sigh after looking at the condition of the plants. Their sighs are vain as these can’t infuse the spirit of liveliness in the decaying plants. What has come, must return. And it’s the eternal rule that doesn’t exclude the trees. Even the communion with the souls of the trees isn’t possible. It means their souls have gone far away and they won’t return until the next summer.


Lines 9–12

But here under the apple tree

I loved and watched and pruned

With gnarled hands

In the long, long years;

In this section, the poet talks about where he is sitting while he was penning down his thoughts about autumn. The apple tree appears as an abode of peace and solitude in the disease-ridden landscape of autumn. The relationship between the tree and the poet is deep. He loves the tree as it has been nurtured by the “gnarled hands” of the poet. The image of the hand reflects the poet is old and the tree has been planted long years ago.


Lines 13–17

Here under the roots of this northern-spy

To move in the chemic change and circle of life,

Into the soil and into the flesh of the tree,

And into the living epitaphs

Of redder apples!

In the last section of the poem, the northern-spy, a variety of apple trees, becomes the center of attention. The poet imaginatively looks through its rough bark. He can visualize the chemical change inside its body during autumn. The change is natural as it is the foremost catalyst in the “circle of life”. Life keeps moving for the subtle changes that occur during the process. Change means there is life and immobility reflects death.

The last two lines are important as these lines portray the future of the tree. The “redder apples” are the delight of autumn in a superficial understanding. Under this veil, it hides what is going to happen with the tree. The apples, as the poet says, writes the “living epitaphs” of the tree. This line somehow admits of the apparent victory of death over life. In reality, it says the opposite. This kind of mixed feelings in a poet’s heart is nothing but the impact of autumn on a thoughtful mind.


Historical Context

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters possibly talks about the northern-spy apple trees of the Conrad region. It is an unincorporated community in Calhoun County, Illinois. The poet spent his life in that area previously. The title ‘Conrad Siever’ is a reference to the apple trees. The poet employs a metonymy here for associating the place with its fruits. “Siever” is a metaphorical reference to the idea of sieving. The roots of the apple tree sieve its resources (minerals and water) from the earth. In this way, the poet innovatively addresses the northern-spy apple that is honored by the United States Postal Service in 2013.


Similar Poetry

‘Conrad Siever’ by Edgar Lee Masters covers the effect of autumn on trees and nature as a whole. This theme is present in the following poems.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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