‘Minerva Jones’ by Edgar Lee Masters is a short twelve-line poem that does not follow any particular rhyme scheme or meter pattern. It is one piece of 246 included in Masters’ masterpiece, Spoon River Anthology. This volume details the lives of those that lived in a small town of the same name located new Masters own residence. It was first published in January of 1915.
The poem begins with the speaker introducing herself. She tells the reader that she is the “village poetess,” and that her life has been filled with the disparaging comments of others. Every day she is “Hooted at” and made fun of. Others living in her same village find it easy to make fun of her “heavy body,” and her slanted walk. She does not conform to traditional standards of beauty, making her an easy target for “the Yahoos.”
At some point during her life, she was forced to, or decided to, give in to the attentions of “Butch” Weldy, a no-good man, who after getting her pregnant leaves her to get an abortion. After this, her life quickly comes to an end. She sinks into death and depression and her final wish is that her poems be collected into a volume and published by a local newspaper.
Analysis of Minerva Jones
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.
Like the rest of the poems contained within Masters’ greatest work, Spoon River Anthology, the speaker in this piece is someone who has passed on. Each of the poems in this volume is inspired by the lives of those that lived in the same area that Masters did.
In this particular poem, the poet has taken on the perspective, memories, and emotions of a woman named Minerva Jones.
‘Minerva Jones’ begins with the speaker, Minerva, introducing herself. She calls herself by her first name and tells the reader straight away that she is the “village poetess.” Throughout her life, she did not receive any acclaim from critics or even from those living in her same town. She was “Hooted at,” and “jeered at” by the young ne’er-do-wells, or “Yahoos” on the streets. This is a direct reference to the “Yahoos” referenced in Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. By making this reference the speaker is trying to prove that she is educated and has an understanding of literature.
No one in her town took her seriously and she believes this was due to the fact that she had a “heavy body” and was “cock-eyed” with a “rolling” manner of walking. It is clear from this short description that the village people found her unattractive and easy to make fun of.
The speaker also describes “Butch” Weldy, another character from the Spoon River Anthology, who was able to “capture” her after a “brutal hunt.” This “hunt” is one of romantic pursuit. It is not clear in this piece whether she was raped, or a willing participant in their intercourse, but she fell pregnant.
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?—
After receiving the news that Minerva was with child, “Butch” Weldy left her “to [her] fate with Doctor Meyers.” The speaker is describing her abandonment after receiving the news. The only help that Weldy would give her, was delivering her to a doctor who could perform an abortion. Minerva seems to be swept up in the turn of events in her life.
While the reader can never be sure, it is reasonable to suppose that having failed in her desired career and without much of a prospect for a successful relationship, she gave in to a man who would only use and desert her.
The abortion would prove to be the beginning of the end for Minerva. Soon afterward, either from complications or regret, she began to decline. The next lines of the poem describe her sinking depression and death.
She speaks of how she “sank into death” slowly as if she was entering one foot at a time. Eventually, she was unable to feel her feet, as if she was stepping into a “stream of ice.”
The next lines are spoken as if Minerva is on her death bed. Her final wish is that someone “go to the village newspaper” with her poems, and get them to publish a book of her verses. At the end of her life, her first ambition and love is all she can think about.
I thirsted so for love
I hungered so for life!
The final two lines of ‘Minerva Jones’ truly shows the sadness of Minerva’s short life. She is surely close to death and is crying out for all she lost. She tells the reader, and perhaps those around her, if there are any at her time of death, that she desired nothing more than “love” and “life.” But here she has ended up, without either of those things.
About Edgar Lee Masters
Edgar Lee Masters was born in Garnett, Kansas in August of 1868. When he was a young man he studied law at his father’s practice and was admitted to the bar in 1891. He would go on to create a successful law practice in Chicago.
His first collection of poetry was published in 1898 called, A Book of Verses. He was married later that same year. By 1915 he had published several more collections of poetry as well as a number of plays and a collection of essays. His work did not make much of an impact until, following some friendly advice, he did further experimentation with poetry.
His best-known work, Spoon River Anthology, was the result of this experimentation. Many of the poems in his volume were written epitaphs containing or expressing some sort of confessional truth. This work was inspired by the massive collection, Greek Anthology, that contained 4500 Greek poems. A number of the poems in Jones’ volume were told from the perspective of the dead who were commenting on their lives. No other work that Masters published would compare to the poems contained in Spoon River Anthology. His success with this single collection and his inability to write anything else comparable would haunt him for the rest of his life. He died in 1950.