Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: BARRETT BAYS, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

DOMESDAY BOOK: BARRETT BAYS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I was walking by the river, barrett said
Last Line: Came in and led him from the jury room.
Subject(s): France; Life; Love; Past; War


"I was walking by the river," Barrett said,
"When she arrived. I took her hand, no kiss,
A silence for some minutes as we walked.
Then we began to take up point by point,
For she was concentrated on the hope
Of clearing up all doubtful things that we
Might start anew, clear visioned, perfect friends,
More perfect for mistakes and clouds. Her will
Was passionate beyond all other wills,
And when she set her mind upon a course
She could not be diverted, or if so,
Her failure kept her brooding. What with me
She wanted after what had stunned my faith
I knew not, save she loved me. For in truth
I have no money, and no prospects either
To tempt cupidity."

"Well, first we talked --
You must be patient with me, gentlemen,
You see my nerves -- they're weakened -- but I'll try
To tell you all -- well then -- a glass of water --
At first we talked but trifles. Silences
Came on us like great calms between the stir
Of ineffectual breezes, like this day
In August growing sultry as the sun
Rose upward. She was striving to break down
The hard corrosion of my thought, and I
Could not surrender. Till at last, I said:
'That day in Paris when you stood revealed
Can never be forgotten. Once I killed
A love with hatred for a woman who
Betrayed me, as you did. And you can kill
A love with hatred but you kill your soul
While killing love. And so with you I kept
All hatred from my heart, but cannot keep
A poisonous doubt of you from blood and brain.' . . .
I learned in Paris, (to be clear on this),
That after she had given herself to me
She fell back in the arms of Gregory Wenner.
And here as we were walking I revealed
My agony, my anger, emptied out
My heart of all its bitterness. At last
When she protested it was natural
For her to do what she had done, the act
As natural as breathing, taking food,
Not signifying faithlessness nor love --
Though she admitted had she loved me then
She had not done so -- I grew tense with rage,
A serpent which grows stiff and rears its head
To strike its enemy was what I seemed
To myself then, and so I said to her
In voice controlled and low, but deadly clear,
'What are you but a whore -- you are a whore!'
Murderous words no doubt, but do you hear
She justified herself with Gregory Wenner;
Yes, justified herself when she had written
And asked forgiveness -- yes, brought me out
To meet her by the river. And for what?
I said you whore, she shook from head to heels,
And toppled, but I caught her in my arms,
And held her up, she paled, head rolled around,
Her eyes set, mouth fell open, all at once
I saw that she was dead, or syncope
Profound had come upon her. Elenor,
What is the matter? Love came back to me,
Love there with Death. I laid her on the ground.
I found her dead.

"If I had any thought
There in that awful moment, it was this:
To run away, escape, could I maintain
An innocent presence there, be clear of fault?
And if I had that thought, as I believe,
I had no other; all my mind's a blank
Until I find myself at one o'clock
Disrobing in my room, too full of drink,
And trying to remember.

"With the morning
I lay in bed and thought: Did Irma Leese
Know anything of me, or did she know
That Elenor went out to meet a man?
And if she did not know, who could disclose
That I was with her? No one saw us there.
Could I not wait from day to day and see
What turn the news would take? For at the last
I did not kill her. If the inquest showed
Her death was natural, as it was, for all
Of me, why then my secret might be hidden
In Elenor Murray's grave. And if they found
That I was with her, brought me in the court,
I could make clear my innocence. And thus
I watched the papers, gambled with the chance
Of never being known in this affair.
Does this sound like a coward? Put yourself
In my place in that horror. Think of me
With all these psychic shell shocks -- first the war,
Its great emotions, then this Elenor."

And thus he spoke and twisted hands, and twitched,
And ended suddenly. Then David Borrow,
And Winthrop Marion with the coroner
Shot questions at him till he woke, regained
A memory, concentration: Who are you?
What was your youth? Your love life? What your wife?
Where did you meet this Elenor at the first?
Why did you go to France? In Paris what
Happened to break your balance? Tell us all.
For as they eyed him, he looked down, away,
Stirred restless in the chair. And was it truth
He told of meeting Elenor, her death?
Guilt like a guise was on his face. And one --
This Isaac Newfeldt, juryman, whispered, "Look,
That man is guilty, let us fly the questions
Like arrows at him till we bring him down."
And as they flew the arrows he came to
And spoke as follows: --

"First, I am a heart
That from my youth has sought for love and hungered.
And Elenor Murray's heart had hungered too,
Which drew our hearts together, made our love
As it were mystical, more real. I was
A boy who sought for beauty, hope and faith
In woman's love; at fourteen met a girl
Who carried me to ecstasy till I walked
In dreamland, stepping clouds. She loved me too.
I could not cure my heart, have always felt
A dull pain for that girl. She died, you know.
I found another, rather made myself
Discover my ideal in her, until
My heart was sure she was the one. And then
I woke up from this trance, went to another
Still searching; always searching, reaching now
An early cynicism, how to play with hearts,
Extract their beauty, pass to someone else.
I was a little tired now, seemed to know
There is no wonder woman, just a woman
Somewhere to be a wife. And then I met
The woman whom I married, thought to solve
My problem with the average things of life;
The satisfaction of insistent sex,
A home, a regular program, turn to work,
Forget the dream, the quest. What did I find?
A woman who exhausted me and bored me,
Stirred never a thought, a fancy, brought no friends,
No pleasures or diversions, took from me
All that I had to give of mind and heart,
Purse, or what not. And she was barren too,
And restless; by that restlessness relieved
The boredom of our life; it took her off
In travels here and there. And I was glad
To have her absent, but it still is true
There is a hell in marriage, when it keeps
Delights of freedom off, all other women
Not willing to intrigue, pass distantly
Your married man; but on the other hand
What was my marriage with a wife away
Six months or more of every year? And when
I said to her, divorce me, she would say,
You want your freedom to get married -- well,
The other woman shall not have you, if
There is another woman, as I think.
And so the years went by. I'm thirty-five
And meet a woman, play light heartedly,
She is past thirty, understands nor asks
A serious love. It's summer and we jaunt
About the country, for my wife's away.
As usual, in the fall returns, and then
My woman says, the holiday is over,
Go back to work, and I'll go back to work.
I cannot give her up, would still go on
For this delight so sweet to me. By will
I hold her, stir the fire up to inflame
Her hands for me, make love to her in short
And find myself in love, beholding in her
All beauties and all virtues. Well, at first
What did I care what she had been before,
Whose mistress, sweetheart? Now I cared and asked
Fidelity from her, and this she pledged.
And so a settled life seemed come to us,
We had found happiness. But on a day
I caught her in unfaithfulness. A man
She knew before she knew me crossed her path.
Why do they do this, even while their lips
Are wet with kisses given you? I think
A woman may be true in marriage, never
In any free relationship. And then
I left her, killed the love I had with hate.
Hate is an energy with which to save
A heart knocked over by a blow like this.
To forgive this wrong is never to forget,
But always to remember, with increasing
Sorrow and dreams invest the ruined love.
And so I turned to hate, came from the flames
As hard and glittering as crockery ware,
And went my way with gallant gestures, winning
An hour of rapture where it came to me.
And all the time my wife was much away,
Yet left me in this state where I was kept
From serious love if I had found the woman.
A pterodactyl in my life and soul:
Had wings, could fly, but slumbered in the mud.
Was neither bird nor beast; as social being
Was neither bachelor nor married man.
The years went on with work, day after day
Arising to the task, night after night
Returning for the rest with which to rise,
Forever following the mad illusion,
The dream, the expected friend, the great event
Which should change life, and never finding it.
And all the while I see myself consumed,
Sapped somehow by this wife and hating her;
Then fearful for myself for hating her,
Then melting into generosities
For hating her. And so tossed back and forth
Between such passions, also never at peace
From the dream of love, the woman and the mate
I stagger, amble, hurtle through the years,
And reach that summer of two years ago
When life began to change. It was this way:
My wife is home, for a wonder, and my friend,
Most sympathetic, nearest, comes to dine.
He casts his comprehending eyes about,
Takes all things in. As we go down to town,
And afterward at luncheon, when alone
He says to me: she is a worthy woman,
Beautiful, too, there is no other woman
To make you happier, the fault is yours,
At least in part, remove your part of the fault,
To woo her, give yourself, find good in her.
Go take a trip. For neither man nor woman
Yields everything till wooed, tried out, beloved.
Bring all your energies to the trial of her.
She will respond, unfold, repay your work.

He won me with his words. I said to her,
Let's summer at Lake Placid -- so we went.
I tried his plan, did all I could, no use.
The woman is not mine, was never mine,
Was meant for someone else. And in despair,
In wrath as well, I left her and came back
And telephoned a woman that I knew
To dine with me. She came, was glad and gay,
But as she drew her gloves off let me see
A solitaire. What, you? I said to her,
You leave me too? She smiled and answered me;
Marriage may be the horror that you think,
And yet we all must try it once, and Charles
Is nearest my ideal of any man.
I have been very ill since last we met,
Had not survived except for skillful hands,
And Charles was good to me, with heart and purse,
My illness took my savings. I repay
His goodness with my hand. I love him too.
You do not care to lose me. As for that
I know one who will more than take my place;
She is the nurse who nursed me back to health,
I'll have you meet her, I can get her now.
She rose and telephoned. In half an hour
Elenor Murray joined us, dined with us.
I watched her as she entered, did not see
A single wonder in her, cannot now
Remember how she looked, what dress she wore,
What hat in point of color, anything.
After the dinner I rode home with them,
Saw Elenor at luncheon next day. So
The intimacy began."

"She was alone,
Unsettled and unhappy, pressed for funds.
She had, it seemed, nursed Janet without pay
Till Charles made good at last the weekly wage;
Since Janet's illness had no work to do.
I was alone and bored, she came to me
Almost at first as woman never came
To me before, so radiant, sympathetic,
Admiring, so devoted with a heart
That soothed and strove to help me. Strange to say
These manifests of spirit, ministrations
Bespoke the woman who has found a man,
And never knew a man before. She seemed
An old maid jubilant for a man at last,
And truth to tell I took her rapturous ways
With just a little reticence, and shrinking
Of spirit lest her hands would touch too close
My spirit which misvalued hers, withdraw
Itself from hers with hidden smiles that she
Could find so much in me. She did not change,
Retreat, draw in; advanced, poured out, gave more
And wooed me, till I feared if I should take
Her body she would follow me, grow mad
And shameless for her love."

"But as for that
That next day while at luncheon, frank and bold,
I spoke right out to her and then she shook
From head to foot, and made her knife in hand
Rattle the plate for trembling, turned as pale
As the table linen. Afterward as we met,
Having begun so, I renewed the word,
Half smiling to behold her so perturbed,
And serious, and gradually toning down
Pursuit of her this way, as I perceived
Her interest growing and her clinging ways,
Her ardor, huddling to me, great devotion;
Rapt words of friendship, offers of herself
For me or mine for nothing were we ill
And needed her."

"These currents flowed along.
Hers plunged and sparkled, mine was slow for thought.
A doubt of her, or fear, till on a night
When nothing had been said of this before,
Quite suddenly when nearing home she shrank,
Involved herself in shrinking in the corner
Of the cab's seat, and spoke up: 'Take me now,
I'm yours to-night, will do what you desire,
Whatever you desire.' I acted then,
Seemed overjoyed, was puzzled just the same,
And almost feared her. As I said before,
I feared she might pursue me, trouble me
After a hold like this, -- and yet I said:
'Go get your satchel, meet me in an hour.'
I let her out, drove to the club, and thought;
Then telephoned her, business had come up,
I could not meet her, but would telephone
To-morrow."

"And to-morrow when it came
Brought ridicule and taunting from myself:
To have pursued this woman, for two months,
And if half-heartedly, you've made her think
Your heart was wholly in it, now she yields,
Bestows herself. You fly, you are a fool;
A village pastor playing Don Juan,
A booby costumed as a gallant -- pooh!
Go take your chance. I telephoned her then,
That night she met me."

"Here was my surprise:
All semblance of the old maid fell away,
Like robes as she disrobed. She brought with her
Accoutrements of slippers, caps of lace,
And oriental perfumes languorous.
The hour had been all heaven had I sensed,
Sensed without thinking consciously a play,
Dramatics, acting, like an old maid who
Resorts to tricks of dress she fancies wins
A gallant of experience, fancies only
And knows not, being fancied so appears
Half ludicrous."

"But so our woe began.
That morning we had breakfast in our room,
And I was thinking, in an absent way
Responded to her laughter, joyous ways.
For I was thinking of my life again,
Of love that still eluded me, was bored
Because I sat there, did not have the spirit
To share her buoyancy -- or was it such?
Did she not ripple merriment to hide
Her disappointment, wake me if she could?
And spite of what I thought of her before
That she had known another man or men,
I thought now I was first. And to let down,
Slope off the event, our parting for the day
Have no abruptness, I invited her
To luncheon, when I left her 'twas to meet
Again at noon. We met and parted then.
So now it seemed a thing achieved. Two weeks
Elapsed before I telephoned her. Then
The story we repeated as before,
Same room and all. But meantime we had sat
Some moments over tea, the orchestra
Played Chopin for her."

"Then she handed me
A little box, I opened it and found
A locket too ornate, her picture in it,
A little flag."

"So in that moment there
Love came to me for Elenor Murray. Music,
That poor pathetic locket, and her way
So humble, so devoted, and the thought
Of those months past, wherein she never swerved
From ways of love, in spite of all my moods,
Half-hearted, distant -- these combined at once,
And with a flame that rose up silently
Consumed my heart with love."

"She went away,
And left me hungering, lonely. She returned,
And saw at last dubieties no more,
The answering light for her within my eyes."

"I must recur a little here to say
That at the first, first meeting it may be,
With Janet, there at tea, she said to me
She had signed for the war, would go to France,
To nurse the soldiers. You cannot remember
What people say at first, before you know,
Have interest in them. Also at that time
I had no interest in the war, believed
The war would end before we took a hand.
The war lay out of me, objectified
Like news of earthquakes in Japan. And then
As time went on she said: 'I do not know
What day I shall be called, the time's at hand.'
I loathed the Germans then; but loathed the war,
The hatred, lying, which it bred, the filth
Spewed over Europe, from the war, on us
At last. I loathed it all, and saw
The spirit of the world debauched and fouled
With blood and falsehood."

"Elenor found in me
Cold water for her zeal, and even asked:
'Are you pro-German? -- no!' I tried to say
What stirred in me, she did not comprehend,
And went her way with saying: 'I shall serve,
O, glorious privilege to serve, to give,
And since this love of ours is tragedy,
Cannot be blessed with children, or with home,
It will be better if I die, am swept
Under the tide of war with work.' This girl
Exhausted me with ardors, spoken faiths,
And zeal which never tired, until at last
I longed for her to go and make an end.
What better way to end it?"

"April came,
One day she telephoned me that to-morrow
She left for France. We met that night and walked
A wind swept boulevard by the lake, and she
Was luminous, a spirit; tucked herself
Under my coat, adored me, said to me:
'If I survive I shall return to you,
To serve you, help you, be your friend for life,
And sacrifice my womanhood for you.
You cannot marry me, in spite of that
If I can be your comfort, give you peace,
That will be marriage, all that God intends
As marriage for me. You have blessed me, dear,
With hope and happiness. And oh at last
You did behold the war as good, you give me,
You send me to the war. I serve for you,
I serve the country in your name, your love,
So blessed for you, your love.'"

"That night at two
I woke somehow as if an angel stood
Beside the bed in light, beneficence,
And found her head close to my heart -- she woke
At once with me, spoke dreamily 'Dear heart,'
Then turned to sleep again. I loved her then."

"She left next day. An olden mood came back
Which said, the end has come, and it is best.
I left the city too, breathed freer then,
Sought new companionships. But in three days
My heart was sinking, sickness of the heart,
Nostalgia took me. How to fight it off
Became the daily problem; work, diversions
Seemed best for cures. The malady progressed
Beyond the remedies. My wife came back,
Divined my trouble, laughed. And every day
The papers pounded nerves with battle news;
The bands were playing, soldiers marched the streets.
And taggers on the corner every day
Reminded you of suffering and of want.
And orators were talking where you ate:
Bonds must be bought -- war -- war was everywhere.
There was no place remote to hide from it,
And rest from its insistence. Then began
Elenor Murray's letters sent from France,
Which told of what she did, and always said:
'Would you were with me, serving in the war.
If you could come and serve; they need you, dear;
You could do much.' Until at last the war
Which had lain out of me, objectified,
Became a part of me, I saw the war,
And felt the war through her, and every tune
And every marching soldier, every word
Spoken by orators said Elenor Murray.
At dining places, theatres, pursued
By this one thought of war and Elenor Murray;
In every drawing room pursued, pursued
In quiet places by the memories.
I had no rest. The war and love of her
Had taken body of me, soul of me,
With madness, ecstasy, and nameless longing,
Hunger and hope, fear and despair -- but love
For Elenor Murray with intenser flame
Ran round it all."

"At last all other things:
Place in the world, my business, and my home,
My wife if she be counted, sunk away
To nothingness. I stood stripped of the past,
Saw nothing but the war and Elenor,
Saw nothing but the day of finding her
In France, and serving there to be with her,
Or near where I could see her, go to her,
Perhaps if she was ill or needed me.
And so I went to France, began to serve,
Went in the ordnance. In that ecstasy
Of war, religion, love, found happiness;
Became a part of the event, and cured
My languors, boredom, longing, in the work;
And saw the war as greatest good, the hand
Of God through all of it to bring the world
Beauty and Freedom, a millennium
Of Peace and Justice."

"So the days went by
With work and waiting, waiting for the hour
When Elenor should have a furlough, come
To Paris, see me. And she came at last."

"Before she came she wrote me, told me where
To meet her first. 'At two o'clock,' she wrote,
'Be on the landing back of the piano'
Of a hotel she named. An ominous thought
Passed through my brain, as through a room a bat
Flits in and out. I read the letter over:
How could this letter pass the censor? Escape
The censor's eye? But eagerness of passion,
And longing, love, submerged such thoughts as these.
I walked the streets and waited, loitered through
The Garden of the Tuilleries, watched the clocks,
The lagging minutes, counted with their strokes.
And then at last the longed for hour arrived.
I reached the landing -- what a meeting place!
With pillars, curtains hiding us, a nook
No one could see us in, unless he spied.
And she was here, was standing by the corner
Of the piano, very pale and worn,
Looked down, not at me, pathos over her
Like autumn light. I took her in my arms,
She could not speak, it seemed. I could not speak.
Dumb sobs filled heart and throat of us. And then
I held her from me, looked at her, re-clasped
her head against my breast, with choking breath
That was half whisper, half a cry, I said,
'I love you, love you, now at last we're here
Together, oh, my love!' She put her lips
Against my throat and kissed it: 'Oh, my love,
You really love me, now I know and see,
My soul, my dear one,' Elenor breathed up
The words against my throat."

"We took a suite:
Soft rugs upon the floor, a bed built up,
And canopied with satin, on the wall
Some battle pictures, one of Bonaparte,
A bottle of crystal water on a stand
And roses in a bowl -- the room was sweet
With odors, and so comfortable. Here we stood.
'It's Paris, dear,' she said, 'we are together;
You're serving in the war, how glorious!
We love each other, life is good -- so good!'
That afternoon we saw the city a little,
So many things occurred to prophesy,
Interpret."
"And that night we saw the moon,
One star above the Arc de Triomphe, over
The chariot of bronze and leaping horses.
Dined merrily and slept and woke together
Beneath that satin canopy."

"In brief,
The days went by with laughter and with love.
We watched the Seine from bridges, in a spell
There at Versailles in the Temple of Love
Sat in the fading day."

"Upon the lawn
She took her diary from her bag and read
What she had done in France; years past as well.
Began to tell me of a Simeon Strong
Whom she was pledged to marry years before.
How jealousy of Simeon Strong destroyed
His love, and all because in innocence
She had received some roses from a friend.
That led to other men that she had known
Who wished to marry her, as she said. But most
She talked of Simeon Strong; then of a man
Who had absorbed her life until she went
In training as a nurse, a married man,
Whom she had put away, himself forgetting
A hopeless love he crushed. Until at last
I said, no more, my dear -- The past is dead,
What is the past to me? It would not be
That you could live and never meet a man
To love you, whom you loved. And then at last
She put the diary in her bag, we walked
And scanned the village from the heights; the train
Took back for Paris, went to dine, be gay.
This afternoon was the last, this night the last.
To-morrow she was going back to work,
And I was to resume my duties too,
Both hopeful for another meeting soon,
The war's end, a re-union, some solution
Of what was now a problem hard to bear."

"We left our dinner early, she was tired,
There in our room again we clung together,
Grieved for the morrow. Sadness fell upon us,
Her eyes were veiled, her voice was low, her speech
Was brief and nebulous. She soon disrobed,
Lay with her hair spread out upon the pillow,
One hand above the coverlet."

"And soon
Was lying with head turned from me. I sat
And read to man my grief. You see the war
Blew to intenser flame all moods, all love,
All grief at parting, fear, or doubt. At last
As I looked up to see her I could see
Her breast with sleep arise and fall. The silence
Of night was on the city, even her breath
I heard as she was sleeping -- for myself
I wondered what I was and why I was,
What world is this and why, and if there be
God who creates us to this life, then why
This agony of living, peace or war;
This agony which grows greater, never less,
And multiplies its sources with the days,
Increases its perplexities with time,
And gives the soul no rest. And why this love,
This woman in my life. The mystery
Of my own torture asked to be explained.
And why I married whom I married, why
She was content to stand far off and watch
My crucifixion. Why?"

"And with these thoughts
Came thought of changing them. A wonder slipped
About her diary in my brain. I paused,
Said to myself, you have no right to spy
Upon such secret records, yet indeed
A devilish sense of curiosity
Came as relaxment to my graver mood,
As one will fetch up laughter to dispel
Thoughts that cannot be quelled or made to take
The form of action, clarity. I arose
Took from her bag the diary, turned to see
What entry she had made when first she came
And gave herself to me. And look! The page
Just opposite from this had words to show
She gave herself to Gregory Wenner just
The week that followed on the week in which
She gave herself to me."

"A glass of water,
Before I can proceed!" . . .

"I reeled and struck
The bed post. She awoke. I thought that death
Had come with apoplexy, could not see,
And in a spell vertiginous, with hands
That shook and could not find the post, stood there
Palsied from head to foot. Quick, she divined
The event, the horror anyway, sprang out,
And saw the diary lying at my feet.
Before I gained control of self, could catch
Or hold her hands, she seized it, threw it out
The window on the street, and flung herself
Face down upon the bed."

"Oh awful hell!
What other entries did I miss, what shames
Recorded since she left me, here in France?
What was she then? A woman of one sin,
Or many sins, her life filled up with treason,
Since I had left her?"

"And now think of me:
This monstrous war had entered me through her,
Its passion, beauty, promise came through her
Into my blood and spirit, swept me forth
From country, life I knew, all settled things.
I had gone mad through her, and from her lips
Had caught the poison of the war, its hate,
Its yellow sentiment, its sickly dreams,
Its lying ideals, and its gilded filth.
And here she lay before me, like a snake
That having struck, by instinct now is limp;
By instinct knows its fangs have done their work,
And merely lies and rests."

"I went to her,
Pulled down her hands from eyes and shook her hard:
What is this? Tell me all?"

"She only said:
'You have seen all, know all.'"

"'You do not mean
That was the first and last with him?' She said,
'That is the truth.' 'You lie,' I answered her.
'You lie and all your course has been a lie:
Your words that asked me to be true to you,
That I could break your heart. The breasts you showed
Flowering because of me, as you declared;
Our intimacy of bodies in the dance
Now first permitted you because of love;
Your plaints for truth and for fidelity,
Your fears, a practiced veteran in the game,
All simulated. And your prayer to God
For me, our love, your protests for the war,
For service, sacrifice, your mother hunger,
Are all elaborate lies, hypocrisies,
Studied in coolest cruelty, and mockery
Of every lovely thing, if there can be
A holy thing in life, as there cannot,
As you have proven it. The diary's gone --
And let it go -- you kept it from my eyes
Which shows that there was more. What are you then,
A whore, that's all, a masquerading whore,
Not worthy of the hand that plies her trade
In openness, without deceit. For if
This was the first and only time with him
Here is dissimulation month by month
By word of mouth, in letters by the score;
And here your willingness to take my soul
And feed upon it. Knowing that my soul
Through what I thought was love was caught and whirled
To faith in the war, and faith in you as one
Who symbolized the war as good, as means
Of goodness for the world -- and this deceit,
Insane, remorseless, conscienceless, is worse
Than what you did with him. I could forgive
Disloyalty like that, but this deceit
Is unforgivable. I go,' I said.
I turned to leave. She rose up from the bed,
'Forgive! Forgive!' she pleaded, 'I was mad,
Be fair! Be fair! You took me, turned from me,
Seemed not to want me, so I went to him.
I cried the whole day long when first I gave
Myself to you, for thinking you had found
All that you wanted, left me, did not care
To see me any more. I swear to you
I have been faithful to you since that day
When we heard Chopin played, and I could see
You loved me, and I loved you. O be fair!'" . . .

Then Barrett Bays shook like an animal
That starves and freezes. And the jury looked
And waited till he got control of self
And spoke again his horror and his grief: --
"I left her, went upon the silent streets,
And walked the night through half insane, I think.
Cannot remember what I saw that night,
Have only blurs of buildings, arches, towers,
Remember dawn at last, returning strength,
And taking rolls and coffee, all my spirit
Grown clear and hard as crystal, with a will
As sharp as steel to find reality:
To see life as it is and face its terrors,
And never feel a tremor, bat an eye.
Drink any cup to find the truth, and be
A pioneer in a world made new again,
Stripped of the husks, bring new faith to the world,
Of souls devoted to themselves to make
Souls truer, more developed, wise and fair!
Write down the creed of service, and write in
Self-culture, self-dependence, throw away
The testaments of Jesus, old and new,
Save as they speak and help the river life
To mould our truer beings; the rest discard
Which teaches compensation, to forgive
That you may be forgiven, mercy show
That mercy may be yours, and love your neighbor,
Love so to gain -- all balances like this
Of doctrine for the spirit false and vile,
Corrupted with such calculating filth;
And if you'd be the greatest, be the servant --
When one to be the greatest must be great
In self, a light, a harmony in self,
Perfected by the inner law, the works
Done for the sake of beauty, for the self
Without the hope of gain except the soul,
Your one possession, grows a perfect thing
If tended, studied, disciplined. While all
This ethic of the war, the sickly creed
Which Elenor Murray mouthed, but hides the will
Which struggles still, would live, lies to itself,
Lies to its neighbor and the world, and leaves
Our life upon a wall of rotting rock
Of village mortals, patriotism, lies!"

"And as for that, what did I see in Paris
But human nature working in the war
As everywhere it works in peace? Cabals,
And jealousies and hatreds, greed alert;
Ambition, cruelty, strife piled on strife;
No peace in labor that was done for peace;
Hypocrisy elaborate and rampant.
Saw at first hand what coiled about the breast
Of Florence Nightingale when she suffered, strove
In the Crimean War, struck down by envy,
Or nearly so. Oh, is it human nature,
That fights like maggots in the rotting carcass?
Or is it human nature tortured, bound
By artificial doctrines, creeds which all
Pretend belief in, really doubt, resist
And cannot live by?"

"If I had a thought
Of charity toward this woman then
It was that she, a little mind, had tried
To live the faith against her nature, used
A woman's cunning to get on in life.
For as I said it was her lies that hurt.
And had she lied, had she been living free,
Unshackled of our system, faith and cult,
American or Christian, what you will?

"She was a woman free or bound, but women
Enslave and rule by sex. The female tigers
Howl in the jungle when their dugs are dry
For meat to suckle cubs. And Germany
Of bullet heads and bristling pompadours,
And wives made humble, cowed by basso brutes,
Had women to enslave the brutes with sex,
And make them seek possessions, land and food
For breeding women and for broods."

"And now
If women make the wars, yet nurse the sick,
The wounded in the wars, when peace results,
What peace will be, except a peace that fools
The gaping idealist, all souls in truth
But souls like mine? A peace that leaves the world
Just where it was with women in command
Who, weak but cunning, clinging to the faith
Of Christ, therefore as organized and made
A part, if not the whole of western culture.
Away with all of this! Blow down the mists,
The rainbows, give us air and cloudless skies.
Give water to our fevered eyes, give strength
To see what is and live it, tear away
These clumsy scaffoldings, by which the mystics,
Ascetics, mad-men all St. Stylites
Would rise above the world of body, brain,
Thirst, hunger, living, nature! Let us free
The soul of man from sophists, logic spinners,
The mad-magicians who would conjure death,
Yet fear him most themselves, the coward hearts
Who mouth eternal bliss, yet cling to earth
And keep away from heaven."

"For it's true
Nature, or God, gives birth and also death.
And power has never come to draw the sting
Of death or make it pleasant, creed nor faith
Prevents disease, old age and death at last.
This truth is here and we must face it, or
Lie to ourselves and cloud our brains with lies,
Postponements and illusions, childish hopes!
But lie most childish is the Christian myth
Of Adam's fall, by which disease and death
Entered the world, until the Savior came
And conquered death. He did? But people die,
Some millions slaughtered in the war! They live
In heaven, say your Elenor Murrays, well,
Who knows this? If you know it, why drop tears
For people better off? How ludicrous
The patch-work is! I leave it, turn again
To what man in this world can do with life
Made free of superstition, rules and faiths,
That make him lie to self and to his fellows." . . .

And Barrett Bays, now warmed up to his work,
Grown calmer, stronger, mind returned, that found
Full courage for the thought, the word to say it
Recurred to Elenor Murray, analyzed: --
And now a final word: "This Elenor Murray,
What was she, just a woman, a little life
Swept in the war and broken? If no more,
She is not worth these words: She is the symbol
Of our America, perhaps this world
This side of India, of America
At least she is the symbol. What was she?
A restlessness, a hunger, and a zeal;
A hope for goodness, and a tenderness;
A love, a sorrow, and a venturing will;
A dreamer fooled but dreaming still, a vision
That followed lures that fled her, generous, loving,
But also avid and insatiable;
An egoism chained and starved too long
That breaks away and runs; a cruelty,
A wilfulness, a dealer in false weights,
And measures of herself, her duty, others,
A lust, a slick hypocrisy and a faith
Faithless and hollow. But at last I say
She taught me, saved me for myself, and turned
My steps upon the path of making self
As much as I can make myself -- my thanks
To Elenor Murray!"

"For that day I saw
The war for what it was, and saw myself
An artificial factor, working there
Because of Elenor Murray -- what a fool!
I was not really needed, like too many
Was just pretending, though I did not know
That I was just pretending, saw myself
Swept in this mad procession by a woman;
And through myself I saw the howling mob
Back in America that shouted hate,
In God's name, all the carriers of flags,
The superheated patriots who did nothing,
Gave nothing but the clapping of their hands,
And shouts for freedom of the seas. The souls
Who hated freedom on the sea or earth,
Had, as the vile majority, set up
Intolerable tyrannies in America,
America that launched herself without
A God or faith, but in the name of man
And for humanity, so long accursed
By Gods and priests -- the vile majority!
Which in the war, and through the war went on
With other tyrannies as to meat and drink,
Thought, speech, the mind in living -- here was I
One of the vile majority through a woman --
And serving in the war because of her,
And meretricious sentiments of her.
You see I had the madness of the world,
Was just as crazy as America.
And like America must wake from madness
And suffer, and regret, and build again.
My soul was soiled, you see. And now I saw
How she had pressed her lips against my soul
And sapped my spirit in the name of beauty
She simulated; for a loyalty
Her lips averred; how as a courtesan
She had made soft my tissues, like an apple
Handled too much; how vision of me went
Into her life sucked forth; how never a word
Which ever came from her interpreted
In terms of worth the war; how she had coiled
Her serpent loins about me; how she draped
Herself in ardors borrowed; how my arms
Were mottled from the needle's scar where she
Had shot the opiates of her lying soul;
How asking truth, she was herself untrue;
How she, adventuress in the war, had sought
From lust grown stale, renewal of herself.
And then at last I saw her scullery brows
Fail out and fade beside the Republic's face,
And leave me free upon the hills, who saw,
Strong, seeking cleanliness in truth, her hand
Which sought the cup worn smooth by leper lips
Dipped in the fountain where the thirst of many
Passionate pilgrims had been quenched,
Not lifted up by me, nor yet befriended
By the cleaner cup I offered. Now you think
That I am hard. Philosophy is hard,
And I philosophize, admit as well
That I have failed, am full of faults myself,
All faults, we'll say, but one, I trust and pray
The fault of falsehood and hypocrisy." . . .

"I gave my work in Paris up -- that day
Made ready to return, but with this thought
To use my wisdom for the war, do work
For America that had no touch of her,
No flavor of her nature, far removed
From the symphony of sex, be masculine,
Alone, and self-sufficient, needing nothing,
No hand, no kiss, no mate, pure thought alone
Directed to this work. I found the work
And gave it all my energy."

"From then
I wrote her nothing, though she wrote to me
These more than hundred letters -- here they are!
Since you have mine brought to you from New York
All written before she went to France, I think
You should have hers to make the woman out
And read her as she wrote herself to me.
The rest is brief. She cabled when she sailed,
And wrote me from New York. While at LeRoy
With Irma Leese she wrote me. Then that day
She telephoned me when she motored here
With Irma Leese, and said: 'Forgive, forgive,
O see me, come to me, or let me come
To you, you cannot crush me out. These months
Of silence, what are they? Eternity
Makes nothing of these months. I love you, never
In all eternity shall cease to love you,
Love makes you mine, and you must come to me
Now or hereafter.'"

"And you see at last
My soul was clear again, as clean and cold
As our March days, as clear too, and the war
Stood off envisioned for the thing it was.
Peace now had come, which helped our eyes to see
What dread event the war was. So to see
This woman with these eyes of mine, made true
And unpersuadable of her plaints and ways
I gave consent and went."

"Arriving first,
I walked along the river till she came.
And as I saw her, I looked through the tricks
Of dress she played to win me, I could see
How she arrayed herself before the mirror,
Adjusting this or that to make herself
Victorious in the meeting. But my eyes
Were wizard eyes for her, and this she knew,
Began at first to writhe, change color, flap
Her nervous hands in gestures half controlled.
I only said, 'Good morning,' took her hand,
She tried to kiss me, but I drew away.
'I have been true,' she said, 'I love you, dear,
If I was false and did not love you, why
Would I pursue you, write you, all against
Your coldness and your silence? O believe me,
The war and you have changed me. I have served,
Served hard among the sufferers in the war,
Sustained by love for you. I come to you
And give my life to you, take it and use,
Keep me your secret joy. I do not dream
Of winning you in marriage. Here and now
I humble self to you, ask nothing of you,
Except your kindness, love again, if love
Can come again to you -- O this must be!
It is my due who love you, with my soul,
My body.'"

"'No,' I said, 'I can forgive
All things but lying and hypocrisy.' . . .
How could I trust her? She had kept from me
The diary, threw it from the window, what
Was life of her in France? Should I expunge
This Gregory Wenner, what was life of her
In France, I ask. And so I said to her:
'I have no confidence in you' -- O well
I told the jury all. But quick at once
She showed to me, that if I could forgive
Her course of lying, she was changed to me,
The war had changed her, she was hard and wild,
Schooled in the ways of soldiers, and in war.
That beauty of her womanhood was gone,
Transmuted into waywardness, distaste
For simple ways, for quiet, loveliness.
The adventuress in her was magnified,
Cleared up and set, she had become a shrike,
A spar hawk, and I loathed her for these ways
Which she revealed, dropping her gentleness
When it had failed her. Yes, I saw in her
The war at last; its lying and its hate,
Its special pleading, and its double dealing,
Its lust, its greed, its covert purposes,
Its passion out of hell which obelised
Such noble things in man. Its crooked uses
Of lofty spirits, flaming fires of youth,
Young dreamers, lovers. And at last she said,
As I have told the jury, what she did
Was natural, and I cursed her. Then she shook,
Turned pale, and reeled, I caught her, held her up,
She died right in my arms! And this is all;
Except that had I killed her and should spend
My days in prison for it, I am free,
My spirit being free."

"Who was this woman?
This Elenor Murray was America;
Corrupt, deceived, deceiving, self-deceived,
Half-disciplined, half-lettered, crude and smart,
Enslaved yet wanting freedom, brave and coarse,
Cowardly, shabby, hypocritical,
Generous, loving, noble, full of prayer,
Scorning, embracing rituals, recreant
To Christ so much professed; adventuresome;
Curious, mediocre, venal, hungry
For money, place, experience, restless, no
Repose, restraint; before the world made up
To act and sport ideals, go abroad
To bring the world its freedom, having choked
Freedom at home -- the girl was this because
These things were bred in her, she breathed them in
Here where she lived and grew."

Then Barrett Bays stepped down
And said, "If this is all, I'd like to go."
Then David Borrow whispered in the ear
Of Merival, and Merival conferred
With Ritter and Llewellyn George and said:
"We may need you again, a deputy
Will take you to my house, and for the time
Keep you in custody."

The deputy
Came in and led him from the jury room.





Other Poems of Interest...



Home: PoetryExplorer.net