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Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950). Spoon River Anthology. 1916.

167. Silas Dement

IT was moon-light, and the earth sparkled

With new-fallen frost.

It was midnight and not a soul was abroad.

Out of the chimney of the court-house

A grey-hound of smoke leapt and chased

The northwest wind.

I carried a ladder to the landing of the stairs

And leaned it against the frame of the trap-door

In the ceiling of the portico,

And I crawled under the roof and amid the rafters

And flung among the seasoned timbers

A lighted handful of oil-soaked waste.

Then I came down and slunk away.

In a little while the fire-bell rang—

Clang! Clang! Clang!

And the Spoon River ladder company

Came with a dozen buckets and began to pour water

On the glorious bon-fire, growing hotter,

Higher and brighter, till the walls fell in,

And the limestone columns where Lincoln stood

Crashed like trees when the woodman fells them…

When I came back from Joliet

There was a new court house with a dome.

For I was punished like all who destroy

The past for the sake of the future.