Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: ARCHIBALD LOWELL, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: ARCHIBALD LOWELL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Archibald lowell, owner of the times
Last Line: And brings them to the jury in these words: --
Subject(s): Death; Life; Marriage; News; Dead, The; Weddings; Husbands; Wives


Archibald Lowell, owner of the Times
Lived six months of the year at Sunnyside,
His Gothic castle near LeRoy, so named
Because no sun was in him, it may be.
His wife was much away when on this earth
At cures, in travel, fighting psychic ills,
Approaching madness, dying nerves. They said
Her heart was starved for living with a man
So cold and silent. Thirty years she lived
Bound to this man, in restless agony,
And as she could not free her life from his,
Nor keep it living with him, on a day
She stuck a gas hose in her mouth and drank
Her lungs full of the lethal stuff and died.
That was the very day the hunter found
Elenor Murray's body near the river.
A servant saw this Mrs. Lowell lying
A copy of the Times clutched in her hand,
Which published that a slip of paper found
In Elenor Murray's pocket had these words
"To be brave and not to flinch." And was she brave,
And nerved to end it by these words of Elenor?
But Archibald, the husband, could not bear
To have the death by suicide made known.
He laid the body out, as if his wife
Had gone to bed as usual, turned a jet
And left it, just as if his wife had failed
To fully turn it, then went in the room;
Then called the servants, did not know that one
Had seen her with the Times clutched in her hand.
He thought the matter hidden. Merival,
All occupied with Elenor Murray's death
Gave to a deputy the Lowell inquest.
But later what this servant saw was told
To Merival.

And now no more alone
Than when his wife lived, Lowell passed the days
At Sunnyside, as he had done for years.
He sat alone, and paced the rooms alone,
With hands behind him clasped, in fear and wonder
Of life and what life is. He rode about,
And viewed his blooded cattle on the hills.
But what were all these rooms and acres to him
With no face near him but the servants, gardeners?
Sometimes he wished he had a child to draw
Upon his fabulous income, growing more
Since all his life was centered in the Times
To swell its revenues, and in the process
His spirit was more fully in the Times
Than in his body. There were eyes who saw
How deftly was his spirit woven in it
Until it was a scarf to bind and choke
The public throat, or stifle honest thought
Like a soft pillow offered for the head,
But used to smother. There were eyes who saw
The working of its ways emasculate,
Its tones of gray, where flame had been the thing,
Its timorous steps, while spying on the public,
To learn the public's thought. Its cautious pauses,
With foot uplifted, ears pricked up to hear
A step fall, twig break. Platitudes in progress --
With sugar coat of righteousness and order,
Respectability.

Did the public make it?
Or did it make the public, that it fitted
With such exactness in the communal life?
Some thousands thought it fair -- what should they think
When it played neutral in the matter of news
To both sides of the question, though at last
It turned the judge, and chose the better side,
Determined from the first, a secret plan,
And cunning way to turn the public scale?
Some thousands liked the kind of news it printed
Where no sensation flourished -- smallest type
That fixed attention for the staring eyes
Needed for type so small. But others knew
It led the people by its fair pretensions,
And used them in the end. In any case
This editor played hand-ball in this way:
The advertisers tossed the ball, the readers
Caught it and tossed it to the advertisers:
And as the readers multiplied, the columns
Of advertising grew, and Lowell's thought
Was how to play the one against the other,
And fill his purse.

It was an ingrown mind,
And growing more ingrown with time. Afraid
Of crowds and streets, uncomfortable in clubs,
No warmth in hands to touch his fellows' hands,
Keeping aloof from politicians, loathing
The human alderman who bails the thief;
The little scamp who pares a little profit,
And grafts upon a branch that takes no harm.
He loved the active spirit, if it worked,
And feared the active spirit, if it played.
This Lowell hid himself from favor seekers,
Such letters filtered to him through a sieve
Of secretaries. If he had a friend,
Who was a mind to him as well, perhaps
It was a certain lawyer, but who knew?
And cursed with monophobia, none the less
This Lowell lived alone there near LeRoy,
Surrounded by his servants, at his desk
A secretary named McGill, who took
Such letters, editorials as he spoke.
His life was nearly waste. A peanut stand
Should be as much remembered as the Times,
When fifty years are passed.

And every month
The circulation manager came down
To tell the great man of the gain or loss
The paper made that month in circulation,
In advertising, chiefly. Lowell took
The audit sheets and studied them, and gave
Steel bullet words of order this or that.
He took the dividends, and put them -- where?
God knew alone.

He went to church sometimes,
On certain Sundays, for a pious mother
Had reared him so, and sat there like a corpse,
A desiccated soul, so dry the moss
Upon his teeth was dry.

And on a day,
His wife now in the earth a week or so,
Himself not well, the doctor there to quiet
His fears of sudden death, pains in the chest,
His manager had come -- was made to wait
Until the doctor finished -- brought the sheets
Which showed the advertising, circulation.
And Lowell studied them and said at last:
"That new reporter makes the Murray inquest
A thing of interest, does the public like it?"
To which the manager: "It sells the paper."
And then the great man: "It has served its use.
Now being nearly over, print these words:
The Murray inquest shows to what a length
Fantastic wit can go, it should be stopped."
An editorial later might be well:
Comment upon a father and a mother
Invaded in their privacy, and life
In intimate relations dragged to view
To sate the curious eye.

Next day the Times
Rebuked the coroner in these words. And then
Merival sent word: "I come to see you,
Or else you come to see me, or by process
If you refuse." And so the editor
Invited Merival to Sunnyside
To talk the matter out. This was the talk:
First Merival went over all the ground
In mild locution, what he sought to do.
How as departments in the war had studied
Disease and what not, tabulated facts,
He wished to make a start for knowing lives,
And finding remedies for lives. It's true
Not much might be accomplished, also true
The poet and the novelist gave thought,
Analysis to lives, yet who could tell
What system might grow up to find the fault
In marriage as it is, in rearing children
In motherhood, in homes; for Merival
By way of wit said to this dullest man:
"I know of mother and of home, of heaven
I've yet to learn." Whereat the great man winced,
To hear the home and motherhood so slurred,
And briefly said the Times would go its way
To serve the public interests, and to foster
American ideals as he conceived them.
Then Merival who knew the great man's nature,
How small it was and barren, cold and dull,
And wedded to small things, to gold, and fear
Of change, and knew the life the woman lived, --
These seven days in the earth -- with such a man,
Just by a zephyr of intangible thought
Veered round the talk to her, to voice a wonder
About the jet left turned, his deputy
Had overlooked a hose which she could drink
Gas from a jet. "You needn't touch the jet.
Just leave it as she left it -- hide the hose,
And leave the gas on, put the woman in bed."
"This deputy," said Merival, "was slack
And let a verdict pass of accident."
"Oh yes" said Merival, "your servant told
About the hose, the Times clutched in her hand.
And may I test this jet, while I am here?
Go up to see and test it?"

Whereupon
The great man with wide eyes stared in the eyes
Of Merival, was speechless for a moment,
Not knowing what to say, while Merival
Read something in his eyes, saw in his eyes
The secret beat to cover, saw the man
Turn head away which shook a little, saw
His chest expand for breath, and heard at last
The editor in four steel bullet words,
"It is not necessary."

Merival
Had trapped the solitary fox -- arose
And going said: "If it was suicide
The inquest must be changed."

The editor
Looked through the window at the coroner
Walking the gravel walk, and saw his hand
Unlatch the iron gate, and saw him pass
From view behind the trees.

Then horror rose
Within his brain, a nameless horror took
The heart of him, for fear this coroner
Would dig this secret up, and show the world
The dead face of the woman self-destroyed,
And of the talk, which would not come to him,
To poison air he breathed no less, of why
This woman took her life; if for ill health
Then why ill health? O, well he knew at heart
What he had done to break her, starve her life.
And now accused himself too much for words,
Ways, temperament of him that murdered her,
For lovelessness, and for deliberate hands
That pushed her off and down.

He rode that day
To see his cattle, overlook the work,
But when night came with silence and the cry
Of night-hawks, and the elegy of leaves
Beneath the stars that looked so cold at him
As he turned seeking sleep, the dreaded pain
Grew stronger in his breast. Dawn came at last
And then the stir and voices of the maids.
And after breakfast in the carven room
Archibald Lowell standing by the mantel
In his great library, felt sudden pain;
Saw sudden darkness, nothing saw at once,
Lying upon the marble of the hearth;
His great head cut which struck the post of brass
In the hearth's railing -- only a little blood!
Archibald Lowell being dead at last;
The Times left to the holders of the stock
Who kept his policy, and kept the Times
As if the great man lived.

And Merival
Taking the doctor's word that death was caused
By angina pectoris, let it drop.
And went his way with Elenor Murray's case.

So Lowell's dead and buried; had to die,
But not through Elenor Murray. That's the Fate
That laughs at greatness, little things that sneak
From alien neighborhoods of life and kill.
And Lowell leaves a will, to which a boy --
Who sold the Times once, afterward the Star --
Is alien as this Elenor to the man
Who owned the Times. But still is brought in touch
With Lowell's will, because this Lowell died
Before he died. And Merival learns the facts
And brings them to the jury in these words: --





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