Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMEDAY BOOK: MIRIAM FAY'S LETTER, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

DOMEDAY BOOK: MIRIAM FAY'S LETTER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Elenor murray asked to go in training
Last Line: Who ran the times.
Subject(s): Evil; Kisses; Letters; Life; Love

Elenor Murray asked to go in training
And came to see me, but the school was full,
We could not take her. Then she asked to stand
Upon a list and wait, I put her off.
She came back, and she came back, till at last
I took her application; then she came
And pushed herself and asked when she could come,
And start to train. At last I laughed and said:
"Well, come to-morrow." I had never seen
Such eagerness, persistence. So she came.
She tried to make a friend of me, perhaps
Since it was best, I being in command.
But anyway she wooed me, tried to please me.
And spite of everything I grew to love her,
Though I distrusted her. But yet again
I had belief in her best self, though doubting
The girl somehow. But when I learned the girl
Had never had religious discipline,
Her father without faith, her mother too,
Her want of moral sense, I understood.
She lacked stability of spirit, to-day
She would be one thing, something else the next.
Shot up in fire, which failed and died away
And I began to see her fraternize
With girls who had her traits, too full of life
To be what they should be, unstable too,
Much like herself.

Not long before she came
Into the training school, six months, perhaps,
She had some tragedy, I don't know what,
Had been quite ill in body and in mind.
When she went into training I could see
Her purpose to wear down herself, forget
In weariness of body, something lived.
She was alert and dutiful and sunny,
Kept all the rules, was studious, led the class,
Excelled, I think, in studies of the nerves,
The mind grown sick.

As we grew better friends,
More intimate, she talked about religion,
And sacred subjects, asked about the church.
I gave her books to read, encouraged her,
Asked her to make her peace with God, and set
Her feet in pious paths. At last she said
She wished to be baptized, confirmed. I made
The plans for her, she was baptized, confirmed,
Went to confessional, and seemed renewed
In spirit by conversion. For at once
Her zeal was like a flame at Pentecost,
She almost took the veil, but missing that,
She followed out the discipline to the letter,
Kept all the feast days, went to mass, communion,
Did works of charity; indeed, I think
She spent her spare hours all in all at sewing
There with the sisters for the poor. She had,
When she came to me, jewelry of value,
A diamond solitaire, some other things.
I missed them, and she said she sold them, gave
The money to a home for friendless children.
And I remember when she said her father
Had wronged, misvalued her; but now her love,
Made more abundant by the love of Christ,
Had brought her to forgiveness. All her mood
Was of humility and sacrifice.

One time I saw her at the convent, sitting
Upon a foot-stool at the gracious feet
Of the Mother Superior, sewing for the poor;
Hair parted in the middle, curls combed out.
Then was it that I missed her jewelry.
She looked just like a poor maid, humble, patient,
Head bent above her sewing, eyes averted.
The room was silent with religious thought.
I loved her then and pitied her. But now
I think she had that in her which at times
Made her a flagellant, at other times
A rioter. She used the church to drag
Her life from something, took it for a bladder
To float her soul when it was perilled. First,
She did not sell her jewelry; this ring,
Too brilliant for forgetting, or to pass
Unnoticed when she wore it, showed again
Upon her finger after she had come
Out of her training, was a graduate.
She had a faculty for getting in
Where elegance and riches were. She went
Among the great ones, when she found a way,
And traveled with them where she learned the life
Of notables, aristocrats. It was there,
Or when from duty free and feasting, gadding
The ring showed on her finger.

In two years
She dropped the church. New friends made in the school,
New interests, work that took her energies
And this religious flare had cured her up
Of what was killing her when first I knew her.
There was another thing that drew her back
To flesh, away from spirit: She saw bodies,
And handled bodies as a nurse, forgot
The body is the spirit's temple, fell
To some materialism of thought. And now
Avoided me, was much away, of course,
On duty here and there. I tried to hold her,
Protect and guide her, wrote to her at times
To make confession, take communion. She
Ignored these letters. But I heard her say
The body was as natural as the soul,
And just as natural its desires. She kept
Out of the wreck of faith one thing alone,
If she kept that: She could endure to hear
God's name profaned, but would not stand to hear
The Savior's spoken in irreverence.
She was afraid, no doubt. Or to be just,
The tender love of Christ, his sacrifice,
Perhaps had won her wholly -- let it go,
I'll say that much for her.

Why am I harsh?
Because I saw the good in her all streaked
With so much evil, evil known and lived
In knowledge of it, clung to none the less,
Unstable as water, how could she succeed?
Untruthful, how could confidence be hers?
I sometimes think she joined the church to mask
A secret life, renewed forgiven sins.
After she cloaked herself with piety.
Perhaps, at least, when she saw what to do,
And how to do it, using these detours
Of piety to throw us off, who else
Had seen what doors she entered, whence she came.
She wronged the church, I think, made it a screen
To stand behind for kisses, to look from
Inviting kisses. Then, as I have said,
She took materialism from her work,
And so renewed her sins. She drank, I think,
And smoked and feasted; but as for the rest,
The smoke obscured the flame, but there is flame
Or fire at least where there is smoke.

You ask
What took her to the war? Why only this:
Adventure, chance of marriage, amorous conquests --
The girl was mad for men, although I saw
Her smoke obscured the flame, I never saw her
Except with robins far too tame or lame
To interest her, and robins prove to me
The hawk is somewhere, waits for night to join
His playmate when the robins are at rest.
You see the girl has madness in her, flies
From exaltation up to ecstasy.
Feeds on emotion, never has enough.
Tries all things, states of spirit, even beliefs.
Passes from lust (I think) to celibacy,
Feasts, fasts, eats, starves, has raptures then inflicts
The whip upon her back, is penitent,
Then proud, is humble, then is arrogant,
Looks down demurely, stares you out of face,
But runs the world around. For in point of fact,
She traveled much, knew cities and their ways;
And when I used to see her at the convent
So meek, clothed like a sewing maid, at once
The pictures that she showed me of herself
At seaside places or on boulevards,
Her beauty clothed in linen or in silk,
Came back to mind, and I would resurrect
The fragments of our talks in which I saw
How she knew foods and drinks and restaurants,
And fashionable shops. This girl could fool the elect --
She fooled me for a time. I found her out.
Did she aspire? Perhaps, if you believe
It's aspiration to seek out the rich,
And ape them. Not for me. Of course she went
To get adventure in the war, perhaps
She got too much. But as to waste of life,
She might have been a quiet, noble woman
Keeping her place in life, not trying to rise
Out of her class -- too useless -- in her class
Making herself all worthy, serviceable.
You'll find 'twas pride that slew her. Very like
She found a rich man, tried to hold him, lost
Her honor and her life in consequence.

When Merival showed this letter to the jury,
Marion the juryman spoke up:
"You know that type of woman -- saintly hag!
I wouldn't take her word about a thing
By way of inference, or analysis.
They had some trouble, she and Elenor
You may be sure." And Merival replied:
"Take it for what it's worth. I leave you now
To see the man who owns the Daily Times.
he's turned upon our inquest, did you see
The jab he gives me? I can jab as well."
So Merival went out and took with him
A riffle in the waters of circumstance
Set up by Elenor Murray's death to one
Remote, secure in greatness -- to the man
Who ran the Times.

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