Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters is a collection of poems written as epitaphs. In the below Albert Schirding feels that he and his life are not worthy given the success of his children. Jonas Keene drives himself into the grave in his sorrow that none of his kids can obtain the simplest success.
While at different times I have felt like both gentlemen the reality is that each one of us should strive for personal best regardless of family. Accordingly “George Gray”, at the bottom, hangs on my wall and in my heart.
JONAS KEENE thought his lot a hard one
Because his children were all failures.
But I know of a fate more trying than that:
It is to be a failure while your children are successes.
For I raised a brood of eagles
Who flew away at last, leaving me
A crow on the abandoned bough.
Then, with the ambition to prefix
Honorable to my name,
And thus to win my children’s admiration,
I ran for County Superintendent of Schools,
Spending my accumulations to win– and lost.
That fall my daughter received first prize in
Paris for her picture, entitled, “The Old Mill”–
(It was of the water mill before Henry Wilkin put in steam.)
The feeling that I was not worthy of her finished me.
WHY did Albert Schirding kill himself
Trying to be County Superintendent of Schools,
Blest as he was with the means of life
And wonderful children, bringing him honor
Ere he was sixty?
If even one of my boys could have run a news-stand,
Or one of my girls could have married a decent man,
I should not have walked in the rain
And jumped into bed with clothes all wet,
Refusing medical aid.
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.