Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: CONSIDER FREELAND, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: CONSIDER FREELAND, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Look at that tract of land there -- five good acres
Last Line: Of elenor murray: --
Subject(s): Life; Love; War; Youth


Look at that tract of land there -- five good acres
Held out of use these thirty years and more.
They keep a cow there. See! the cow's there now.
She can't eat up the grass, there is so much.
And in these thirty years these houses here,
Here, all around here have been built. This lot
Is worth five times the worth it had before
These houses were built round it.

Well, by God,
I am in part responsible for this.
I started out to be a first rate lawyer.
Was I first rate lawyer? Well, I won
These acres for the Burtons in the day
When I could tell you what is gavel kind,
Advowsons, corodies, frank tenements,
Scutage, escheats, feoffments, heriots,
Remainders and reversions, and mortmain,
Tale special and tale general, tale female,
Fees absolute, conditional, copyholds;
And used to stand and argue with the courts
The difference 'twixt a purchase, limitation,
The rule in Shelley's case.

And so it was
In my good days I won these acres here
For old man Kingston's daughter, who in turn
Bound it with limitation for the life
Of selfish sons, who keep a caretaker,
Who keeps a cow upon it. There's the cow!
The land has had no use for thirty years.
The children are kept off it. Elenor Murray,
This girl whose death makes such a stir, one time
Was playing there -- but that's another story.
I only say for the present, these five acres
Made Elenor Murray's life a thing of waste
As much as anything, and a damn sight more.
For think a minute!

Kingston had a daughter
Married to Colonel Burton in Kentucky.
And Kingston's son was in the Civil War.
But just before the war, the Burtons deeded
These acres here, which she inherited
From old man Kingston, to this Captain Kingston,
The son aforesaid of Old Kingston. Well,
The deed upon its face was absolute,
But really was a deed in trust.

The Captain
Held title for a year or two, and then
An hour before he fought at Shiloh, made
A will, and willed acres to his wife,
Fee simple and forever. Now you'd think
That contemplating death, he'd make a deed
Giving these acres back to Mrs. Burton,
The sister who had trusted him. I don't know
What comes in people's heads, but I believe
The want of money is the root of evil,
As well as love of money; for this Captain
Perhaps would make provision for his wife
And infant son, thought that the chiefest thing
No matter how he did it, being poor,
Willed this land as he did. But anyway
He willed it so, went into Shiloh's battle,
And fell dead on the field.

What happened then?
They took this will to probate. As I said
I was a lawyer then, you may believe it,
Was hired by the Burtons to reclaim
These acres from the Widow Kingston's clutch,
Under this wicked will. And so I argued
The will had not been witnessed according to law.
Got beat upon that point in the lower court,
But won upon it in the upper courts.
Then next I filed a bill to set aside
This deed the Burtons made to Captain Kingston --
Oh, I was full of schemes, expedients,
In those days, I can tell you. Widow Kingston
Came back and filed a cross bill, asked the court
To confirm the title in her son and her
As heirs of Captain Kingston, let the will
Go out of thought and reckoning. Here's the issue;
You understand the case, no doubt. We fought
Through all the courts. I lost in the lower court,
As I lost on the will. There was the deed:
For love and affection and one dollar we
Convey and warrant lots from one to ten
In the city of LeRoy, to Captain Kingston
To be his own forever.

How to go
Behind such words and show the actual trust
Inhering in the deed, that was the job.
But here I was resourceful as before,
Found witnesses to testify they heard
This Captain Kingston say he held the acres
In trust for Mrs. Burton -- but I lost
Before the chancellor, had to appeal,
But won on the appeal, and thus restored
These acres to the Burtons. And for this
What did I get? Three hundred lousy dollars.
That's why I smoke a pipe; that's also why
I quit the business when I saw the business
Was making ready to quit me. By God,
My life is waste so far as it was used
By this law business, and no coroner
Need hold an inquest on me to find out
What waste was in my life -- God damn the law!

Well, then I go my way, and take my fee,
And pay my bills. The Burtons have the land,
And turn a cow upon it. See how nice
A playground it would be. I've seen ten sets
Of children try to play there -- hey! you hear,
The caretaker come out, get off of there!
And then the children scamper, climb the fence.

Well, after while the Burtons die. The will
Leaves these five acres to their sons for life,
Remainder to the children of the sons.
The sons are living yet at middle life,
These acres have been tied up twenty years,
They may be tied up thirty years beside:
The sons can't sell it, and their children can't,
Only the cow can use it, as it stands.
It grows more valuable as the people come here,
And bring in being Elenor Murrays, children,
And make the land around it populous.
That's what makes poverty, this holding land,
It makes the taxes harder on the poor,
It makes work scarcer, and it takes your girls
And boys and throws them into life half made,
Half ready for the battle. Is a country
Free where the laws permit such things? Your priests,
Your addle-headed preachers mouthing Christ
And morals, prohibition, laws to force
People to be good, to save the girls,
When every half-wit knows environment
Takes natures, made unstable in these homes
Of poverty and does the trick.

That baronet
Who mocked our freedom, sailing back for England
And said: Your Liberty Statue in the harbor
Is just a joke, that baronet is right,
While such conditions thrive.

Well, look at me
Who for three hundred dollars take a part
In making a cow pasture for a cow
For fifty years or so. I hate myself.
And were the Burtons better than this Kingston?
Kingston would will away what was not his.
The Burtons took what is the gift of God,
As much as air, and fenced it out of use --
Save for the cow aforesaid -- for the lives
Of sons in being.

Oh, I know you think
I have a grudge. I have.

This Elenor Murray
Was ten years old I think, this law suit ended
Twelve years or so, and I was running down,
Was tippling just a little every day;
And I came by this lot one afternoon
When school was out, a sunny afternoon.
The children had no place except the street
To play in; they were standing by the fence,
The cow was way across the lot, and Elenor
Was looking through the fence, some boys and girls
Standing around her, and I said to them:
"Why don't you climb the fence and play in there?"
And Elenor -- she always was a leader,
And not afraid of anything, said: "Come on,"
And in a jiffy climbed the fence, the children,
Some quicker and some slower, followed her.
Some said "They don't allow it." Elenor
Stood on the fence, flung up her arms and crowed,
And said "What can they do? He says to do it,"
Pointing at me. And in a moment all of them
Were playing and were shouting in the lot.
And I stood there and watched them half malicious,
And half in pleasure watching them at play.
Then I heard "hey!" the care-taker ran out.
And said "Get out of there, I will arrest you."
He drove them out and as they jumped the fence
Some said, "He told us to," pointing at me.
And Elenor Murray said "Why, what a lie!"
And then the care-taker grabbed Elenor Murray
And said, "You are the wildest of them all."
I spoke up, saying, "Leave that child alone.
I won this God damn land for those you serve,
They use it for a cow and nothing else,
And let these children run about the streets,
When there are grass and dandelions there
In plenty for these children, and the cow,
And space enough to play in without bothering
That solitary cow." I took his hands
Away from Elenor Murray; he and I
Came face to face with clenched fists -- but at last
He walked away; the children scampered off.

Next day, however, they arrested me
For aiding in a trespass clausam fregit,
And fined me twenty dollars and the costs.
Since then the cow has all her way in there.
And Elenor Murray left this rotten place,
Went to the war, came home and died, and proved
She had the sense to leave so vile a world.

George Joslin ending up his days with dreams
Of youth in Europe, travels, and with talk,
Stirred to a recollection of a face
He saw in Paris fifty years before,
Because the face resembled Elenor Murray's,
Explored his drawers and boxes, where he kept
Mementos, treasures of the olden days.
And found a pamphlet, came to Merival,
With certain recollections, and with theories
Of Elenor Murray: --





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