Edgar Lee Masters’s poem ‘Fiddler Jones’ was published as part of the Spoon River Anthology in 1916 edition. This anthology was a cumulative account of 212 different characters, who all lived in a fictional small town named after Spoon River. The collection consists of 244 accounts of the characters’ lives with cross-references that form a beautiful tapestry of life events in the book. The anthology exists to highlight the living conditions in the small towns and villages of America. This poem is about a wayward lad from the Spoon River who lived his life playing the fiddle, without any care for worldly possessions or material pleasures. Masters introduces the character of Fiddler Jones in the opening poem ‘The Hill.’ He talks about Jones in the last six lines of the poem that reads:
Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.
You can read the full text of ‘Fiddler Jones’ below:
Fiddler Jones Edgar Lee Masters The earth keeps some vibration going There in your heart, and that is you. And if the people find you can fiddle, Why, fiddle you must, for all your life. What do you see, a harvest of clover? Or a meadow to walk through to the river? The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands For beeves hereafter ready for market; Or else you hear the rustle of skirts Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove. To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth; They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.” How could I till my forty acres Not to speak of getting more, With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos Stirred in my brain by crows and robins And the creak of a wind-mill—only these? And I never started to plow in my life That some one did not stop in the road And take me away to a dance or picnic. I ended up with forty acres; I ended up with a broken fiddle— And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories, And not a single regret. - from Spoon River Anthology (1916)
Explore Fiddler Jones
‘Fiddler Jones’ by Edgar Lee Masters is an account of Fiddler Jones, who played the fiddle throughout his life.
In this poem, Masters highlights how it is important to follow one’s passion rather than running after money and wealth. Throughout the poem, he draws contrast upon the life led by an opportunistic farmer and an inspired musician.
Fiddler Jones refers to farmer Cooney Potter who had turned his share of forty acres into a thousand and still aimed for more. In the eyes of Jones, a person could see two things by looking at a farm: one, an opportunity for wealth, and two, a walk in the meadow which would be a great memory someday. Whenever Jones thought of plowing, someone came along to make him play his fiddle, which he did not mind because he enjoyed it.
Fiddler Jones was one of the few characters in Spoon River who did not have many regrets, and this poem explains a part of the reason behind his confident statement, “I ended up with forty acres … And not a single regret.”
Masters’s ‘Fiddler Jones’ essentially describes the philosophy Jones adopted in his life, to do what he was passionate about. The poem highlights the contrast between wealth and passion. Masters uses the story of Cooney Potter, who turned his forty acres of land into a thousand acres but was still eager for more. His life works as an example of what giving more importance to wealth does to one’s life.
An antithesis to Potter is Fiddler Jones, whose mind and soul are devoted to music (to fiddle). His fiddle, a musical instrument, helped him to connect with the people of Spoon River and make a thousand memories. Overall, the poem highlights how following one’s passion, no matter what it is, is always worthwhile and helps in leading a life without any regrets.
‘Fiddler Jones’ is written in the free-verse form. There is no regular rhyme scheme in this piece. It has a total of 26 lines, with no stanza breaks. It is written from the point of view of dead Fiddler Jones, with a simplistic tone. The poet uses punctuations like semicolons, commas, full stops, and question marks to emphasize certain ideas in the poem.
He uses end-stopped lines in order to conclude the sense of particular lines. However, each set of lines is dependant on the others thematically. Each idea builds upon the other to reach Fiddler’s final statement. Besides, this poem contains several internal rhymes that make the text sound rhythmical.
Masters makes use of several literary devices in his poem ‘Fiddler Jones.’ These are as follows:
- Allusion: The line, “To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust,” refers to the poem ‘Cooney Potter’ by Masters from the Spoon River Anthology.
- Anaphora: The poet begins lines 23-24 with the same phrase, “I ended up with,” and the last two lines with the word “And.” It is a use of anaphora meant for the sake of emphasis.
- Imagery: The poet uses visual, organic, and auditory imagery to elevate Fiddler’s story. For example, readers can find auditory imagery in “Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth,” tactile imagery in “The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands/ For beeves hereafter ready for market,” etc.
- Apostrophe: Fiddler addresses someone who is not present in the poem; for example, the speaker asks the question “What do you see, a harvest of clover?” directly to the readers or someone close to him.
- Personification: In the line, “Stirred in my brain by crows and robins,” the poet gives the characteristic of “stirring” chords in the speaker’s mind to birds.
- Assonance: The “aw” sound is repeated in the line, “With a medley of horns, bassoons, and piccolos.”
The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
In the first four lines of ‘Fiddler Jones,’ the speaker (Jones) expresses how every person has a vibration, a tenacity of their existence within their heart and soul. Further, he says that if people acknowledge the passion in one’s heart – in his case, it was to fiddle – they will ask to keep entertaining them. Masters draws upon the fact that when people have passions and talents, society expects them to practice them life-long. They do not encourage the exploration of other hobbies as much. This social obligation is hinted at by the term “must” in the line, “Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.”
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
In these lines, Jones poses a question to the readers: when you look at a farm, do you see an opportunity for wealth or a nice place to walk through to a river? This question encaptures the key difference between Cooney Potter and Fiddler Jones – where the first saw money; the latter saw inspiration and enjoyment. Jones says that he can imagine working on the field, but he will keep hearing a “rustle of skirts,” which refers to the girls dancing to the tune of “Little Grove.” Even though Jones could work in a field, his mind and heart were completely devoted to music.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.”
In the next lines, Fiddler Jones refers to Cooney Potter, who was a farmer in Spoon River. Here, the speaker refers to the story of Cooney Potter. He expanded his forty acres of land into a thousand, and still, he was not satisfied. In his account, Potter sighs by saying, “I bustled through the years with axe and plow,/ Toiling, denying myself, my wife, my sons, my daughters.”
Jones says that just a gust of wind with “whirling leaves” would mean a tragic “draught” to his wealth. In contrast, he says, the people danced to his music as if he was “Red-Head Sammy” – another resident of Spoon River. A simple blow could not do anything to his passion. It is the difference between a man of passion and a man of business.
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill—only these?
Jones depicts Potter’s greed as a mundane thing. He would be thinking about the same thing if he was in his place, spending his life with the thoughts of getting more. However, he says that the medley of horns, bassoons, and piccolos would soon fill his head. Nature would give him the inspiration to pick up the fiddle and play the tunes he liked to play. In this way, Jones expresses how even if he wanted to plow his forty acres, he would be too distracted by his passion that would keep running in his mind. The cawing of crows, cooing of robins, and the creaking sound of a wind-mill stirred the chords of his heart. Thus, he could not help but fiddle.
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle–
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.
In the last lines, Fiddler Jones describes how every time he tried to work in the field, someone came by, or a natural urge distracted him. It seemed all the universe conspired him to play. This made Jones happy. However, he says, he ended up with “forty acres,” which refers to the lesser sum than Potter’s wealth as Fiddler did not prioritize money.
Thus, Fiddler says he ended up with the share of land he inherited, a broken fiddle that he used throughout his life, and a broken laugh. Yet, he ended up with a thousand memories and not a single regret.
This is very significant as he is one of the few characters from Spoon River Anthology who did not have many regrets. Overall, Fiddler Jones’s philosophy on life is simple: to do the thing that makes one happy. Masters portrays this theme beautifully in this poem.
Edgar Lee Masters was an American poet, attorney, and dramatist. Some of his best-known works are Spoon River Anthology, Songs and Satires, and The Great Valley. This poem appears in the 1916 edition of Spoon River Anthology, which was initially published in 1915. It is a collection of 244 free-verse poems that narrates the epitaphs of the residents of a small fictional town, Spoon River. The book has 212 distinct characters, with cross-referential storylines. The poem ‘Fiddler Jones’ is the 60th poem of 1916 edition, followed by the epitaph of ‘Cooney Potter.’ Explore more Edgar Lee Masters poems.
Edgar Lee Masters’s poem ‘Fiddler Jones’ is about a wayward fiddler from the fictional town Spoon River, whose view on life is to prioritize passion over wealth for leading a life without regrets. His way of living leads to complete happiness. Jones believes that one should follow what one loves to do irrespective of material benefits.
Fiddler Jones is a resident of the fictional town called Spoon River, where he lived and played the fiddle. This character appears in Spoon River Anthology (1916), a collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters that aims to highlight life in rural America.
This poem taps on a number of themes that include passion versus money, happiness, simplicity, leisure, and satisfaction versus regret. The main idea of the poem revolves around the life of Fiddler Jones, a simple violin player from a rural town.
This poem is written in free-verse without a regular rhyming scheme or metrical pattern. The poem is told in first-person from the perspective of the titular character. It is an imaginary account of the simple annals of his life.
The tone of the poem is simplistic, thoughtful, and satisfying. It resembles the state of mind of a person who lived his life without any regrets. He simply followed the calling of his heart.
Readers who enjoyed reading Edgar Lee Masters’s poem ‘Fiddler Jones,’ may also consider reading about other characters from Spoon River Anthology like:
- ‘Archibald Higbie’ — This poem is told from the perspective of a disgruntled, deceased artist from Spoon River.
- ‘Carl Hamblin’ — It tells the story of how Hamblin ended up tarred and feathered through a story of injustice and anarchy.
- ‘Fletcher McGee’ — This confessional poem is about a husband who is responsible for the death of his own wife, Ollie McGee.
- ‘Minerva Jones’ — This poem describes the tragic life of a young woman and her solitary death.