‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters is a specimen of confessional poetry. The poem is written as an epitaph of Mr. Fletcher McGee and it is the complementary piece of Edgar Lee Masters’ ‘Ollie McGee’. In this poem, Mrs. Ollie McGee holds her husband responsible for her untimely death. She doesn’t say he had killed her or not but in the epitaph of her husband Fletcher McGee, the murderer exposes himself. He takes responsibility for his wife’s murder and also provides sufficient reasons for doing so.
Summary of Fletcher McGee
‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters revolves around the titular character and his confessions. The poem is an epitaph written on the grave of Fletcher McGee. In the epitaph, the speaker expresses how his wife has brought misery in his life. According to him, they both made each other deplorable. The wife created havoc in his mental state and the husband in response distorted her physical appearance. In consequence, he became agitated with her wife’s face and closed himself in his room. At last, his wife died but her spirit hunted the speaker until his death.
Structure of Fletcher McGee
‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters is in an epitaph format. It is a long poem without any stanza division. The structure of the poem makes it a perfect example of confessional poetry. Like other confessional poems, it revolves around a single situation and confesses the speaker’s role in it. However, there are a total of 24 lines in the poem and the lines don’t follow a specific rhyme scheme. Hence, it is also a free verse poem that maintains the flow of the text by internal rhyming. The line lengths of the poem are uneven and the syllable count differs in each line. However, the poet mostly uses iambic meter in this poem.
Literary Devices in Fletcher McGee
‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters uses several important literary devices. Likewise, in the first two lines, the poet uses the metaphors of “minutes” and “hours” to present how the wife took her husband’s strength and life slowly away. There is a simile in the third line of the poem. The comparison is made between the “fevered moon” and Fletcher’s wife. “Fevered moon” is also a personal metaphor. The poet makes use of personification and invests the moon with the idea of sapping the world. In the following two lines the poet again takes recourse to similes.
In the first three lines of the poem, the poet uses anaphora. He also uses this device in several instances in the text. There is a metaphor in the phrase, “hunk of sculptor’s clay”. It refers to the crude beauty of the speaker’s wife. Apart from that, there is a biblical allusion in this line, “Fighting like seven devils”. In the line, “I hid me in a corner”, there is a reference to the emotions of Fletcher McGee. Here “me” is a metaphor. The poet ends the poem by using anaphora and polysyndeton.
Analysis of Fletcher McGee
She took my strength by minutes,
She took my life by hours,
She drained me like a fevered moon
That saps the spinning world.
The days went by like shadows,
The minutes wheeled like stars.
‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters presents the confessions of Fletcher McGee. In the first few lines, the speaker says how his wife Ollie McGee brought suffering in his life. He doesn’t mention what her actual fault was. But there was a reason for which Mr. McGee was disturbed. However, he says that his wife gradually drained his mental strength and in the end took his life away.
He uses the image of a “fevered moon” to compare it with his wife. Like the “fevered moon”, the wife was an ill omen in his life. After their marriage, he felt each day with his wife was a shadow of the previous one. The moments passed so slowly that the speaker, at last, became frustrated with himself.
She took the pity from my heart,
And made it into smiles.
She was a hunk of sculptor’s clay,
My secret thoughts were fingers:
They flew behind her pensive brow
And lined it deep with pain.
They set the lips, and sagged the cheeks,
And drooped the eyes with sorrow.
In the next section, the speaker says that at the beginning of their married life he pitied his wife’s appearance. But his pity was turned into smiles after a few days as he knew nothing was going to change with his wife.
Thereafter, the speaker compares his wife to a “hunk of sculptor’s clay”. It is a reference to the effect of the speaker’s behavior on his wife. Fletcher was not a good husband. He made his wife suffer. As a consequence, it reflected on her appearance in the following manner, “They set the lips, and sagged the cheeks,/ And dropped the eyes with sorrow.”
My soul had entered in the clay,
Fighting like seven devils.
It was not mine, it was not hers;
She held it, but its struggles
Modeled a face she hated,
And a face I feared to see.
I beat the windows, shook the bolts.
I hid me in a corner–
And then she died and haunted me,
And hunted me for life.
In the last section of the poem, the speaker associates himself with his wife. Their pain was similar but the expression was different. In simple words, they hated each other. However, Fletcher felt her pain and tried to do something for her. But, in the end, it proved unfruitful.
Before dying, his wife’s face was horrific to look at. The speaker even “beath the windows, shook the bolts” of his room, and hid in a corner. After her death, the spirit returned to haunt Fletcher again. Her ghost hunted Fletcher until his death.
Context of Fletcher McGee
‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters first appeared in “Spoon River Anthology” in 1915. It is a collection of free-verse poems that narrates the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River. They lived in a small town named after the Spoon River. Fletcher McGee and his wife Ollie McGee also lived there. Ollie McGee, in her epitaph, holds her husband responsible for her miserable state and at last for her death. In response to her allegations, Fletcher McGee confesses what pained him the most about his wife and why he decided to end her life. In this way, ‘Ollie McGee’ and ‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters are complimentary in sense. However, the story of the couple demystifies rural and small-town American life of the early 20th century.
‘Fletcher McGee’ by Edgar Lee Masters presents a despicable character. He is responsible for his wife Ollie McGee’s death. Likewise, several poems present a similar kind of theme. Here is a list of such poetic works.
- The Mock Wife by Thomas Hardy – In this poem, Thomas Hardy presents a wife who killed her husband and was executed for the crime.
- Child of Our Time by Eavan Boland – In this poem by Eavan Boland, the poet talks about a murder during the “troubles”.
- Minerva Jones by Edgar Lee Masters – Here the poet describes the tragic life of Minerva Jones, one of the residents of Spoon River.
- Carl Hamblin by Edgar Lee Masters – Here the titular character goes through a similar kind of mental pain as Fletcher McGee.
You can read about 10 Incredible Poems about Death here.