Today is the anniversary of the birth of Edgar Lee Masters (born in Kansas on 23 August 1868), the author of the “Spoon River Anthology”. This is collection of short poems condemning the hypocrisies and cruelty of society. The accusations come from the mouth of the dead buried in their graves.
Here is one of the most poetic portraits:
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me–
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire–
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
The poem depicts the dull life of George Gray who was offered love, ambition, and sorrow but he shrank from them out of mere cowardice or ineptitude, thus refusing to live life to its very fullest. George Gray only understands it now, when it is too late.
Molte volte ho studiato
la lapide che mi hanno scolpito:
una barca con vele ammainate, in un porto.
In realtà non è questa la mia destinazione
ma la mia vita.
Perché l’amore mi si offrì e io mi ritrassi dal suo inganno;
il dolore bussò alla mia porta, e io ebbi paura;
l’ambizione mi chiamò, ma io temetti gli imprevisti.
Malgrado tutto avevo fame di un significato nella vita.
E adesso so che bisogna alzare le vele
e prendere i venti del destino,
dovunque spingano la barca.
Dare un senso alla vita può condurre a follia
ma una vita senza senso è la tortura
dell’inquietudine e del vano desiderio —
è una barca che anela al mare eppure lo teme.
(Translation by Fernanda Pivano)