Monday, November 8, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Elsa Wertman

Elsa Wertman

I was a peasant girl from Germany,
Blue-eyed, rosy, happy and strong.
And the first place I worked was at Thomas Greene's.
On a summer's day when she was away
He stole into the kitchen and took me
Right in his arms and kissed me on my throat,
I turning my head. Then neither of us
Seemed to know what happened.
And I cried for what would become of me.
And cried and cried as my secret began to show.
One day Mrs. Greene said she understood,
And would make no trouble for me,
And, being childless, would adopt it.
(He had given her a farm to be still. )
So she hid in the house and sent out rumors,
As if it were going to happen to her.
And all went well and the child was born --
They were so kind to me.
Later I married Gus Wertman, and years passed.
But -- at political rallies when sitters-by thought I was crying
At the eloquence of Hamilton Greene --
That was not it.
No! I wanted to say:
That's my son!
That's my son!

Edgar Lee Masters

I harbour a heresy that poems that tell a story have a place in the canon. Just a place, they are not the be-all and end-all. Mid-Western American poet Lee Masters (1869-1950) is one of those unsung poets who worked at the craft, did it well, were accepted in their time and are now under-estimated. .

The story it tells was I’m sure a common frontier experience. The wife and the mother, both have their unhappiness and longings . And it’s very American – the power of the orator on the hustings. That simple eloquence is shadowed in the poem.


  1. I agree, poems with obvious narratives do seem to have suffered from neglect in more recent times. And yet, as you aptly remarked, they hold a common truth that is rather simply, and yet eloquently, told. It is interesting to ponder the flux of popularity and its fickleness. Thanks, Harvey!