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

54. Aner Clute

OVER and over they used to ask me,

While buying the wine or the beer,

In Peoria first, and later in Chicago,

Denver, Frisco, New York, wherever I lived,

How I happened to lead the life,

And what was the start of it.

Well, I told them a silk dress,

And a promise of marriage from a rich man—

(It was Lucius Atherton).

But that was not really it at all.

Suppose a boy steals an apple

From the tray at the grocery store,

And they all begin to call him a thief,

The editor, minister, judge, and all the people—

“A thief,” “a thief,” “a thief,” wherever he goes.

And he can’t get work, and he can’t get bread

Without stealing it, why the boy will steal.

It’s the way the people regard the theft of the apple

That makes the boy what he is.