What are themes and poetic elements in Mrs. Benjamin Pantier, Benjamin Pantier, Hamilton Greene, Chase Henry, and Elsa Wertman?

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Benjamin Pantier

Theme of the poem: A formerly ambitious attorney is defeated by life and ends up a lonely alcoholic with no other companion but his dog. He loved a woman, his wife, whom he accuses of "[snaring his] soul," or making him feel small.

Metaphors: "Down the gray road" indicates the path toward death. Benjamin mentions all of the "friends, children, men, and women" who have passed "one by one out of life." "In the morning of life" indicates his youth -- the time in which he knew "aspiration and saw glory."

Imagery: "Snared my soul / With a snare which bled me to death" is a powerful image. A snare is a device with a loop that is used to trap animals. This image contributes to Benjamin's sense of his own helplessness in the face of his wife's supposed manipulations.

Alliteration/Consonance: "Then she, who survives me, snared my soul..." This line is alliterative, emphasizing the "s" sound. The result is like that of a hissing snake, which is a parallel Edgar Lee Masters may have wanted to draw to depict Benjamin's opinion of his wife.

Mrs. Benjamin Pantier

Theme of the poem: A woman dissatisfied with her husband, who she felt was beneath her. There is, too, an admission that her husband could not meet her sexual needs, either because she was too disgusted by him, or she simply desired more than one man.

Symbolism: "Whiskey and onions" are contrasted with Mrs. Pantier's "delicate tastes." Onions sauteed in whiskey might go on a hamburger, for example -- common food, unsuited to Mrs. Pantier's refined palate. This gustatory symbol indicates one of the ways in which Mrs. Pantier finds her husband's tastes unsuitable to her own.

Allusion: Though the reference is more direct than allusion generally permits, the references to Wordworth's "Ode: On Imitations of Immortality from Recollections in Early Childhood" and William Knox's "Mortality" are important. The "rhythm" of the "Ode" runs through Mrs. Pantier's ears, while her husband repeats bits of "that common thing" ["Mortality"] "from morning till night." The Wordsworth poem is a romantic paean to the glory of life and youth, spoken by a narrator on his deathbed. The Knox poem is more cynical and envisions both life and death as unremarkable. Each person's poetic preference is an indication of his or her personality and outlook on life, both of which are incompatible.

Idiom: "Marital relation" is, arguably, more of a euphemism than an idiom -- that is, it is a milder phrase than "sexual relations." However, it could apply as an idiom in that the phrase has a meaning that, according to Merriam-Webster's, "cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements."

Chase Henry

Theme of the poem: The town drunkard -- infamous in life -- is, ironically, "honored" in death by being haphazardly buried beside the town banker and the banker's wife. The point is that one's reputation and position in life are largely owed to chance.

Symbolism: The banker Nicholas and his wife Priscilla symbolize the well-respected upper-class to which Chase did not belong. They were probably the sort of people who would have shunned him.

Idiom: "Cross-currents."

Assonance: "When I died the priest denied me burial / In holy ground. / The which redounded to my good fortune." There is repetition of the long "i" sound in "died" and "denied" creating a bit of rhyme. There is the same pattern with the uses of "ground" and "redounded."

Hamilton Greene

Theme of the poem: A man who, unlike many of the characters in the volume, believes he had a charmed life: good parents, a good lineage, and professional success. Of course, this is undermined by Elsa Wertman's previous revelation about Hamilton's father, Thomas, and our understanding that she is Hamilton's birth mother. Hamilton is the embodiment of a secret.

The other poetic devices you've mentioned are not present here. However, you could argue that, when talking about the traits he inherited from his parents, those traits are respectively representative of what is deemed feminine ("vivacity, fancy, language") and masculine ("will, judgment, logic"). "Will," in light of Thomas Greene forcing himself on Elsa, has both a positive and negative meaning here.

Elsa Wertman

Theme of the poem: Elsa's pain is that of a vulnerable young woman who may have been raped, was impregnated as a result, and, for the rest of her life, bears the shame and secrecy of all that resulted from that encounter.

Imagery: "Blue-eyed, rosy, happy, and strong" emphasize Elsa's former innocence and her sense of fortitude, which was taken from her as a result of what was probably rape. 

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Spoon River Anthology

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