Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: ANTON SOSNOWSKI, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

DOMESDAY BOOK: ANTON SOSNOWSKI, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Anton sosnowski, from the shakespeare school
Last Line: And what makes poverty and waste in lives:
Subject(s): Anger; Faces; Hate; War

Anton Sosnowski, from the Shakespeare School
Where he assists the janitor, sweeps and dusts,
The day now done, sits by a smeared up table
Munching coarse bread and drinking beer; before him
The evening paper spread, held down or turned
By claw-like hands, covered with shiny scars.
He broods upon the war news, and his fate
Which keeps him from the war, looks up and sees
His scarred face in the mirror over the wainscot;
His lashless eyes and browless brows and head
With patches of thin hair. And then he mutters
Hot curses to himself and turns the paper
And curses Germany, and asks revenge
For Poland's wrongs.

And what is this he sees?
The picture of his ruin and his hate,
Wert Rufus Fox! This leader of the bar
Is made the counselor of the city, now
The city takes gas, cars and telephones
And runs them for the people. So this man
Grown rich through machinations against the people,
Who fought the people all his life before,
Abettor, aider, thinker for the slickers
Regraters and forestallers and engrossers,
Is now the friend, adviser of the city,
Which he so balked and thwarted, growing rich,
Feared, noted, bowed to for the very treason
For which he is so hated, yet deferred to.

And Anton looks upon the picture, reads
About the great man's ancestry here printed,
And all the great achievements of his life;
Once president of the bar association,
And member of this club and of that club.
Contributor to charities and art,
A founder of a library, a vestryman.
And Anton looks upon the picture, trembles
Before the picture's eyes. They are the eyes
Of Innocent the Tenth, with cruelty
And cunning added -- eyes that see all things
And boulder jaws that crush all things -- the jaws
That place themselves at front of drifts, are placed
By that world irony which mocks the good,
And gives the glory and the victory
To strength and greed.

Anton Sosnowski looks
Long at the picture, then at his own hands,
And laughs maniacally as he takes the mug
With both hands like a bird with frozen claws,
These broken, burned off hands which handle bread
As they were wooden rakes. And in a mirror
Beside the table in the wall, smeared over
With steam from red-hots, kraut and cookery,
Of smoking fats, fixed by the dust in blurs,
And streaks, he sees his own face, horrible
For scars and splotches as of leprosy;
The eyes that have no lashes and no brows;
The bullet head that has no hair, the ears
Burnt off at top.

So comes it to this Pole
Who sees beside the picture of the lawyer
The clear cut face of Elenor Murray -- yes,
She gave her spirit to the war, is dead,
Her life is being sifted now. But Fox
Lives for more honors, and by honors covers
His days of evil.

Thus Sosnowski broods,
And lives again that moment of hell when fire
Burst like a geyser from a vat where gas
Had gathered in his ignorance; being sent
To light a drying stove within the vat,
A work not his, who was the engineer.
The gas exploded as he struck the match,
And like an insect fixed upon a pin
And held before a flame, hands, face and body
Were burned and broken as his body shot
Up and against the brewery wall. What next?
The wearisome and tangled ways of courts
With Rufus Fox for foe, four trials in all
Where juries disagreed who heard the law
Erroneously given by the court.
At last a verdict favorable, and a court
Sitting above the forum where he won
To say, as there's no evidence to show
Just how the gas got in the vat, Sosnowski
Must go for life with broken hands unhelped.
And that the fact alone of gas therein
Though naught to show his fault had brought it there,
The mere explosion did not speak a fault
Against the brewery.

Out from court he went
To use a broom with crumpled hands, and look
For life in mirrors at his ghastly face.
And brood until suspicion grew to truth
That Rufus Fox had compassed juries, courts;
And read of Rufus Fox, who day by day
Was featured in the press for noble deeds,
For Art or Charity, for notable dinners,
Guests, travels and what not.
So now the Pole
Reading of Elenor Murray, cursed himself
That he could brood and wait -- for what? -- and grow
More weak of will for brooding, while this woman
Had gone to war and served and ended it,
Yet he lived on, and could not go to war;
Saw only days of sweeping with these hands,
And every day his face within the mirror,
And every afternoon this glass of beer,
And coarse bread, and these thoughts.
And every day some story to arouse
His sense of justice; how the generous
Give and pass on, and how the selfish live
And gather honors. But Sosnowski thought
If I could do a flaming thing to show
What courts are ours, what matter if I die?
What if they took their quick-lime and erased
My flesh and bones, expunged my very name,
And made its syllables forbidden? -- still
If I brought in a new day for the courts,
Have I not served? he thought. Sosnowski rose
And to the bar, drank whiskey, then went out.

That afternoon Elihu Rufus Fox
Came home to dress for a dinner to be given
For English notables in town -- to rest
After a bath, and found himself alone,
His wife at Red Cross work. And there alone,
Collarless, lounging, in a comfort chair,
Poring on Wordsworth's poems -- all at once
Before he hears the door turned, rather feels
A foot-fall and a presence, hears too soon
A pistol shot, looks up and sees Sosnowski,
Who fires again, but misses; grabs the man,
Disarms him, flings him down, and finding blood
Upon his shirt sleeve, sees his hand is hit,
No other damage -- then the pistol takes,
And covering Sosnowski, looks at him.
And after several seconds gets the face
Which gradually comes forth from memories
Of many cases, knows the man at last.
And studying Sosnowski, Rufus Fox
Divines what drove the fellow to this deed.
And in these moments Rufus Fox beholds
His life and work, and how he made the law
A thing to use, how he had builded friendships
In clubs and churches, courted politicians,
And played with secret powers, and compromised
Causes and truths for power and capital
To draw on as a lawyer, so to win
Favorable judgments when his skill was hired
By those who wished to win, who had to win
To keep the social order undisturbed
And wealth where it was wrenched to.

And Rufus Fox
Knew that this trembling wreck before him knew
About this course of life at making law
And using law, and using those who sit
To administer the law. And then he said:
"Why did you do this?"

And Sosnowski spoke:
"I meant to kill you -- where's your right to live
When millions have been killed to make the world
A safer place for liberty? Where's your right
To live and have more honors, be the man
To guide the city, now that telephones,
Gas, railways have been taken by the city?
I meant to kill you just to help the poor
Who go to court. For had I killed you here
My story would be known, no matter if
They buried me in lime, and made my name
A word no man could speak. Now I have failed.
And since you have the pistol, point it at me
And kill me now -- for if you tell the world
You killed me in defense of self, the world
Will never doubt you, for the world believes you
And will not doubt your word, whatever it is."

And Rufus Fox replied: "Your mind is turned
For thinking of your case, when you should know
This country is a place of laws, and law
Must have its way, no matter who is hurt.
Now I must turn you over to the courts,
And let you feel the hard hand of the law."
Just then the wife of Rufus Fox came in,
And saw her husband with his granite jaws,
And lowering countenance, blood on his shirt,
The pistol in his hand, the scarred Sosnowski,
Facing the lawyer.

Seeing that her husband
Had no wound but a hand clipped of the skin,
And learning what the story was, she saw
It was no time to let Sosnowski's wrong
Come out to cloud the glory of her husband,
Now that in a new day he had come to stand
With progress, fairer terms of life -- to let
The corpse of a dead day be brought beside
The fresh and breathing life of brighter truth.
Quickly she called the butler, gave him charge
Over Sosnowski, who was taken out,
Held in the kitchen, while the two conferred,
The husband and the wife.

To him she said,
They two alone now: "I can see your plan
To turn this fellow over to the law.
It will not do, my dear, it will not do.
For though I have been sharer in your life,
Partaker of its spoils and fruits, I see
This man is just a ghost of a dead day
Of your past life, perhaps, in which I shared.
But that dead life I would not resurrect
In memory even, it has passed us by,
You shall not live it more, no more shall I.
The war has changed the world -- the harvest coming
Will have its tares no doubt, but the old tares
Have been cut out and burned, wholly, I trust.
And just to think you used that sharpened talent
For getting money, place, in the old regime,
To place you where to-day? Why, where you must
Use all your talents for the common good.
A barter takes two parties, and the traffic
Whereby the giants of the era gone --
(You are a giant rising on the wreck
Of programs and of plots) -- made riches for
Themselves and those they served, is gone as well.
Since gradually no one is left to serve
Or have an interest but the state or city,
The community which is all and should be all.
So here you are at last despite yourself,
Changed not in mind perhaps, but changed in place,
Work, interest, taking pride too in the work;
And speaking with your outer mind, at least
Praise for the day and work.

I am at fault,
And take no virtue to myself -- I lived
Your life with you and coveted the things
Your labors brought me. All is changed for me.
I would be poorer than this wretched Pole
Rather than go back to the day that's dead,
Or reassume the moods I lived them through.
What can we do now to undo the past,
Those days of self-indulgence, ostentation,
False prestige, witless pride, that waste of time,
Money and spirit, haunted by ennui
Insatiable emotion, thirst for change.
At least we can do this: We can set up
The race's progress and our country's glory
As standards for our work each day, go on
Perhaps in ignorance, misguided faith;
And let the end approve our poor attempts.
Now to begin, I ask two things of you:
If you or anyone who did your will
Wronged this poor Pole, make good the wrong at once.
And for the sake of bigness let him go.
For your own name's sake, let the fellow go.
Do you so promise me?"

And Rufus Fox,
Who looked a thunder cloud of wrath and power
Before the mirror tying his white tie,
All this time silent -- only spoke these words:
"Go tell the butler to keep guard on him
And hold him till we come from dinner."

The wife
Looked at the red black face of Rufus Fox
There in the mirror, which like Lao's mirror
Reflected what his mind was, then went out
Gently to her bidding, found Sosnowski
Laughing and talking with the second maid,
Watched over by the butler, quite himself,
His pent up anger half discharged, his grudge
In part relieved.

There was a garrulous ancient at LeRoy
Who traced all evils to monopoly
In land, all social cures to single tax.
He tried to button-hole the coroner
And tell him what he thought of Elenor Murray.
But Merival escaped. And then this man,
Consider Freeland named, got in a group
And talked his mind out of the case, the land
And what makes poverty and waste in lives:

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