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Edgar Lee Masters’ "Sarah Brown"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Introduction and Text of "Sarah Brown"

The speaker in Edgar Lee Masters’ "Sarah Brown" from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, is one of the most positive characters of the lot; although it is hinted that she committed adultery, she emphasizes "love" over sex.

It was Sarah's husband who called her love for Maurice "guilty love," but since her marriage apparently remained intact, it is not clear that she actually experienced a sexual liaison with the grieving Maurice.

Sarah Brown

Maurice, weep not, I am not here under this pine tree.
The balmy air of spring whispers through the sweet grass,
The stars sparkle, the whippoorwill calls,
But thou grievest, while my soul lies rapturous
In the blest Nirvana of eternal light!
Go to the good heart that is my husband,
Who broods upon what he calls our guilty love:—
Tell him that my love for you, no less than my love for him
Wrought out my destiny—that through the flesh
I won spirit, and through spirit, peace.
There is no marriage in heaven,
But there is love.

Reading of "Sarah Brown"

Commentary

“Sarah Brown” reveals an acquaintance with Buddhism as she employs the term “Nirvana” to describe her afterlife experience.

First Movement: Dust to Dust, Not Spoken of the Soul

Maurice, weep not, I am not here under this pine tree.

Sarah Brown addresses Maurice, as he mourns at her grave side. She reveals to him that she is not in the grave "under this pine tree."

Second Movement: As the Soul Sees

The balmy air of spring whispers through the sweet grass,
The stars sparkle, the whippoorwill calls,
But thou grievest, while my soul lies rapturous
In the blest Nirvana of eternal light!

To prove to Maurice that she, that is, her soul, is not confined to the dark, dank hole in the ground, she describes the setting above ground: the stars are out and a bird is singing. She asserts that Maurice is mourning "while [her] soul lies rapturous / In the blest Nirvana of eternal light!"

Sarah Brown exemplifies a Spoon River resident whose soul has evolved to a higher realm than most of the other complaining deceased of the town.

Instead of railing against the unfairness of the small minded folks among whom she lived, as so many others do, she reveals a very positive, even minded attitude, and she tries only to console those left behind, especially Maurice who has come to her grave to mourn.

Third Movement: Winds From the East

Go to the good heart that is my husband,
Who broods upon what he calls our guilty love:—

After attempting to relieve Maurice’s grief, Sarah Brown commands him to go to her husband "who broods upon what he calls our guilty love."

Sarah describes her husband as "the good heart" and continues to think of him as her husband still, even though she has departed earth, and despite the claim she later makes in the final movement.

Another indication that Sarah Brown is influenced by Eastern philosophical thought is that she focuses primarily on action in the present tense, the "eternal now," as referred to in Buddhism.

Fourth Movement: Heightened Awareness

Tell him that my love for you, no less than my love for him
Wrought out my destiny—that through the flesh
I won spirit, and through spirit, peace.

Sarah Brown then reveals the message she wishes Maurice to deliver to her husband. She wants her husband to know that her love for both men has been instrumental in shaping who she has become, that is, that love has "wrought out [her] destiny."

She clarifies that "through the flesh / [she] won spirit, and through spirit, peace." Her infidelity was no mere ordinary dalliance prompted by greed, but because of her heightened awareness played a rôle in leading her soul to divine awareness.

Fifth Movement: Love Cannot Be Confined

There is no marriage in heaven,
But there is love.

Finally, Sarah Brown reveals that "There is no marriage in heaven / But there is love." Sarah Brown became a free spirit while living and thus concludes from heaven that if love is supreme in the afterlife, then marriage cannot confine love while on the earth plane.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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