Poetry Analysis Notes


George Gray
by Edgar Lee Masters
interpreted by Beant Gill

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me--
A boat with a furled sail at trest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me, and I shrank from its
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.

Poet: Edgar Lee Masters was born in Garnett, Kansas in 1869. He attended Knox College for a year and then had home schooling. Soon, he began writing poems about his life in the Midwest and about life in general. He published several compilations of his poems, most of which were in free verse. At the time, most poems were romantic, but Masters wanted to stray from the usual and created poems of realism and irony. Eventually, in 1950, he died leaving hundreds of poems published. He wrote the Spoon River Anthology, and this poem was in that book.

Vocabulary: [NONE]

Type of poem:

Speaker: George Gray, a dead man preaching about life

The reader and those lost in life

Tone: Hopeful and caring; as if he were preaching to society

In this poem, Masters tries to explain why some people become lost in life. Masters writes about a dead man named George Gray who had wasted his life trying to find what he should do in life. He begins explaining about his mistakes and why he failed to reach his destiny at first, but he then figures out why. He symbolizes people as a boat in a river or water mass of life. Instead of people trying to find and pick the fate they want, he says we should "lift the sail and catch the winds of destiny wherever they drive the boat." Basically, we should let whatever destinies we have find us rather than look for it.

Structure of poem: Free Verse
- No stanzas
- No specific meter
- No rhyme scheme

Examples of poetic techniques used in the poem:

"And now I know that we must lift the sailAnd catch the winds of destinyWherever they drive the boat." Assertion:A positive statement said confidently, but with no proof or evidence to support it.
Symbol (life/ the world)
"A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor."
End-Stopping Line
"In truth it pictures not my destinationBut my life."
Run-On Line
"Ambition called me"

Connection between the poem and the poet's life and/or times: Masters had a studious life and learned a lot of factual information, but he wanted to know why he never became a famous poet. He learned that he couldn't make his own destiny, but his destiny must find him. He also wrote the Spoon River Anthology that talked about dead people and their lessons from life.

Most memorable quote from the poem:
"And now I know that we must lift the sail and catch the winds of destiny/ Wherever they drive the boat."

© Smelli Notes 2001