Edgar Lee Masters

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Commentary on “Hiram Scates.”

Edgar Lee Masters's poem “Hiram Scates” is about the corruption of political campaigns. Hiram, who is seeking the nomination for “president of the County-board” (line 2) makes many false promises and attacks his opponent until, of course, he loses to him. Then he backs Solomon Purple with all his might and ends up with a political reward, while his followers are left without hope.

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Edgar Lee Masters' poem “Hiram Scates” is all about the insincerity and downright hypocrisy of politics. The speaker in the poem is Hiram Scates himself. He is out to win the nomination “For president of the County-board” (line 2). This is mostly likely a very low level political position, yet Hiram takes his campaign seriously, extremely seriously. What does he do for most of it? He makes speeches “Denouncing Solomon Purple,” his rival (line 4). He calls Solomon all kinds of names, like “enemy of the people” (line 5), and even declares that he is “in league with the master-foes of man” (line 6). Such viciousness this is for a mere local election, for only a nomination for president of a County-board! Yet can we assume that Solomon does the same?

Notice that Hiram doesn't ever once mention the issues that are important to his county. At least they aren't important enough for him to mention them in this poem. Yet he sets himself up as “the savior of the County” (line 12). What in the world will he save the County from anyway? He speaks as though his nomination were a matter of life and death rather than a potential seat on the County-board.

Yet Hiram attracts followers, mostly of two kinds: “young idealists” and “broken warriors” (line 7). The former are seeking truth. Notice the irony in that! Hiram doesn't seem to have much to say about truth at all. The latter are “Hobbling on one crutch of hope” (line 8). They apparently need help, yet what will Hiram do to help them? He never says.

After all that campaigning, Solomon wins the nomination after all. And look at what Hiram does. He even admits it. He turns an about face and starts campaigning for Solomon! After all the names called and the insults thrown, Hiram begins acting like Solomon's best friend and greatest supporter. He is a hypocrite!

Solomon wins. He becomes “King / Of the Golden Mountain” (lines 16-17), a hilariously overblown title for the president of the County-board. He is no king, and most likely the county is no golden mountain. The reference, by the way, comes from a fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Apparently, Solomon really isn't too much offended by all of Hiram's campaigning, for he rewards Hiram with the position of secretary of the County-board! Hiram's followers, now forgotten by the one who has made them so many promises, are left “out in the cold” (line21) by the man who is satisfied enough to attain a second-best position of authority (as measly as it is).

Notice the last two lines of the poem: “Watching the Devil kick the Millennium / Over the Golden Mountain” (lines 26-27). This poem (as well as this campaign) ends in a betrayal. The devil himself, the poet suggests, stands behind all of this political maneuvering. He has won the day far more than Solomon has, and now he kicks any hope of real leadership, any hope of prosperity and peace, right over the golden mountain and out of the county.

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