“Herbert Marshall” responds to “Louise Smith

“Herbert Marshall” responds to “Louise Smith.”

In Edgar Lee Masters’ “Herbert Marshall” from Spoon River Anthology, the speaker offers a response to the previous speaker, "Louise Smith."

First Movement: “All your sorrow, Louise, and hatred of me”

Addressing Louise, Herbert informs her it was her “delusion” about his relationship with Annabelle that made her hate Herbert. He characterizes Louise’s thinking as wrongheaded, because she thought he considered Annabelle from “wantonness / Of spirit and contempt of [Louise’s] soul’s rights.”

Louise thought that she was the innocent victim of Herbert’s evil intentions, and Herbert believes this wrong thinking resulted in Louise’s hatred of him.

Second Movement: “You really grew to hate me for love of me”

Herbert acknowledges that Louise’s love for him converted into hate, precisely because she loved him and expected him to provide her “soul’s happiness.” Like so many unfortunate lovers, Louise expected from Herbert that which he could not supply. He couldn’t “solve [her] life for [her].” So many divorces result from marriage partners convinced that their partners have the effect of their partners’ happiness.

Because happiness comes from the soul, each individual will find happiness only by looking to their own soul, not into the behavior of another individual toward them. Louise wanted Herbert to supply her using what only her soul could do. Herbert refused to try and fill that gap that Louise experienced through her wrong thinking.

Third Movement: “However, you were my misery”

Herbert speaks defiantly and bluntly by telling Louise, “you were my misery.” Her needy expectations precluded any chance of happiness reigning within their lives. She couldn’t successfully offer Herbert the love he needed, because of her deluded expectations of him.

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    He tells her that if she’d been his “happiness,” “would I not have clung for you?” He makes it clear he did not leave Louise from mere lust for an additional woman, but because of that which was wrong with Louise, her greedy clinging suffocated him coupled with to free himself from her tentacles.

    Fourth Movement: “This is life’s sorrow”

    Herbert turns philosophical in his final movement, holding forth that such is “life’s sorrow.” His conclusion somewhat undercuts his earlier claims as he seems to wish to ignore the complexness of the situation.

    He asserts that there’s a conundrum to find the state of happiness. He claims there need to be two partners that make one another happy, yet often individuals are attracted to those who don’t return that attraction.


    Edgar Lee Masters, "Herbert Marshall," Spoon River Anthology, bartleby.com


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