Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: FATHER WHIMSETT, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

DOMESDAY BOOK: FATHER WHIMSETT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Looking like raphael's perugino, eyes
Last Line: The two priests rose and left the room together.
Subject(s): Absolution; Churches; Clergy; Love; Cathedrals; Priests; Rabbis; Ministers; Bishops

Looking like Raphael's Perugino, eyes
So slightly, subtly aquiline, as brown
As a buck-eye, amorous, flamed, but lightly dimmed
Through thought of self while sitting for the artist;
A nose well bridged with bone for will, the nostrils
Distended as if sniffing diaphanous fire;
A very bow for lips, the under lip
Rich, kissable like a woman's; heavy cheeks
Propped with a rounded tower of flesh for neck:
Thus Perugino looked, says Raphael,
And thus looked Father Whimsett at his desk,
With vertical creases, where the nose and brow
Together come, between the eye-brows slanting
Unequally, half clown-wise, half Mephisto,
With just a touch of that abandoned humor,
And laughter at the world, the race of men,
Mephisto had for mischief, which the priest
Has for a sense which looks upon the dream
And smiles, yet pities those who move in it.
And Father Whimsett smokes and reads and smiles.
He soon will hold confessional. For days
He has heard nothing but complaints of lovers,
And searched for nullities, impediments,
Through which to give sore stricken hearts relief:
There was the youth too drunk to know he married
A woman never baptized. Now the youth
Has found another -- oh this is the one!

And comes and says: Oh, holy father, help me,
May I be free to marry her I love,
And get the church's blessing when a court
Dissolves the civil contract? Holy Father,
I knew not what I did, cannot remember
Where I was married, when, my mind's a blank --
It was the drink, you know.

And so it goes,
The will is eyeless through concupiscence,
And that absolves the soul that's penitent.
And Father Whimsett reads his Latin books,
Searches for subtleties for faithful souls,
Whereby the faithful souls may have their wish,
Yet keep the gospel, too.

These Latin books
Leave him fatigued, but not fatigued to turn
Plotinus, Xenophon, Boccacio,
Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris.
And just this moment Father Whimsett reads
Catullus, killing time, before he hears
Confession, gets the music of Catullus
Along the light that enters at the eye:
Etherial strings plucked by the intellect
To vibrate to the inner ear. At times
He must re-light his half-forgot cigar.
And while the music of the Latin verse,
Which is an echo, as he stops to light
His half-forgot cigar, is wafted through
His meditation, as a tune is heard
After the keys are stayed, it blends, becomes
The soul, interpretation of these stories,
Which lovers tell him in these later days.
And now the clock upon the mantel chimes
The quarter of the hour. Up goes Catullus
By Ovid on the shelf. The dead cigar
Is thrown away. He rises from the chair --
When Father Conway enters, just to visit
Some idle moments, smoke and have a talk.
And Father Whimsett takes his seat again,
Waves Father Conway to a comfort chair,
Says "Have a smoke," and Father Conway smokes,
And sees Catullus, says you read Catullus,
And lays the morning Times upon the table,
And says to Father Whimsett: "Every day
The Times has stories better than Catullus,
And episodes which Horace would have used.
I wish we had a poet who would take
This city of Chicago, write it up,
The old Chicago, and the new Chicago,
The race track, old cafes and gambling places,
The prize fights, wrestling matches, sporting houses,
As Horace wrote up Rome. Or if we had
A Virgil he would find an epic theme
In this American matter, typical
Of our America, one phase or more
Concerning Elenor Murray. Here to-day
There is a story, of some letters found
In Arthur Fouche's mansion, under the floor,
Sensational, dramatic.

Father Whimsett
Looked steadily at Father Conway, blew
A funnel of tobacco smoke and said:
I scarcely read the Times these days, too busy --
I've had a run of rich confessionals.
The war is ended, but they still come on,
And most are lovers in the coils of love.
I had one yesterday that made me think
Of one I had a year ago last spring,
The point was this: they say forgive me father,
For I have sinned, then as the case proceeds
A greater sin comes forth, I mean the sin
Of saying sin is good, cannot be sin:
I loved the man, or how can love be sin?
Well, as a human soul I see the point,
But have no option, must lay to and say
Acknowledgment, contrition and the promise
To sin no more, is necessary to
Win absolution. Now to show the matter,
Here comes a woman, says I leave for France
To serve, to die. I have a premonition
That I shall die abroad; or if I live,
I have had fears, I shall be taken, wronged,
So driven by this honor to destroy
Myself, goes on and says, I tell you all
These fears of mine that you may search my heart,
More gladly may absolve me. Then she says,
These fears worked in my soul until I took
The step which I confess, before I leave.
I wait and she proceeds:

"O, holy father,
There is a man whom I have loved for years,
These five years past, such hopeless, happy years.
I love him and he loves me, holy father.
He holds me sacred as his wife, he loves me
With the most holy love. It cannot be
That any love like ours is guilty love,
Can have no other quality than good,
If it be love."

Well, here's a pretty soul
To sit in the confessional! So I say,
Why do you come to me? Loving your sin,
Confessing it, denying it in one breath,
Leaves you in sin without forgiveness.
Well, then she tacks about and says "I sinned,
And I am sorry. Wait a minute, father,
And see the flesh and spirit mixed again."
She wants to tell me all, I let her go.
And so she says: "His wife's an invalid,
Has been no wife to him. Besides," she says --
Now watch this thrust to pierce my holy shield --
"She is not in the church's eye his wife,
She never was baptized" -- I almost laughed,
But answered her, You think adultery
Is less adultery in a case like this?
"Well, no," she says, "but could he be divorced
The church would marry us." Go on, I said,
And then she paused a little and went on:
"I said I loved this man, and it is true,
And years ago I gave myself to him,
And then his wife found out there was a woman --
But not that I was the woman -- years ago
At confirmation I confessed it all,
Need only say this time I gave him up,
And crushed him out with work -- was chaste for years.
And then I met a man, a different man
Who stirred me otherwise, kept after me.
At last I weakened, sinned three months ago,
And suffered for it. For he took me, left me.
As if he wanted body of me alone,
And was not pleased with that. And after that,
I think that I was mad, a furious passion
Was kindled by this second man, and left
With nothing to employ its flame. Two weeks
Went by, he did not seek me out, none knew
The hour of our departure. Then I thought
How little I had been to this first lover,
And of the years when I denied him -- so
To recompense his love, to serve him, father,
Yes, to allay this passion newly raised
By this new lover, whom I thought I loved,
I went to my old lover, free of will,
And took his lips and said to him, O take me,
I am yours to do with as you choose to-night.
He turned as pale as snow and shook with fear,
His heart beat in this throat. I terrified him
With this great will of mine in this small body.
I went on while he stood there by the window,
His back toward me. Make me wholly yours,
Take no precaution, prudence throw away
As mean, unworthy. Let your life precede,
Forestall the intruder's, if one be. And if
A child must be, yours shall it be."

"He turned,
And took me in his arms. . . ."

"And so to make
As nearly as might be a marriage, father,
I took -- but let me tell you: I had thought
His wife might die at any time, so thinking
During these years I had bought bridal things;
A veil, embroideries, silk lingerie.
And I took to our room my negligee,
Boudoir cap, satin slippers, so to make
All beautiful as we were married, father.
How have I sinned? I cannot deem it wrong.
Do I not soil my soul with penitence,
And smut this loveliness with penitence?
Can I regret my work, nor take a hurt
Upon my very soul? How keep it clean
Confessing what I did (if I thought so)
As evil and unclean?"

The devil again
Entered with casuistry, as you perceive.
And so to make an end, I said to her,
You must bring to this sacrament a heart
Contrite and humble, promise me beside
To sin no more. The case is in your hands,
You can confess with lips, deny with heart,
God only knows, I don't, it's on your soul
To speak the truth or lie to me. Confess
And I'll absolve you. -- For in truth my heart
Was touched by what she said, her lovely voice.

But now the story deepened. For she said,
I have not told you all. And she renewed:
"Suppose you pack your trunk and have your lunch,
Go to the station, but no train arrives,
And there you wait and wait, until you're hungry,
And nothing to do but wait, no place to lunch,
You cannot leave the station, lest the train
Should come while you are gone. Well, so it was,
The weeks went by, and still we were not called.
And I had closed my old life, sat and waited
The time of leaving to begin new life.
And after I had sinned with my first lover,
Parted from him, said farewell, ended it,
Could not go back to him, at least could think
Of no way to return that would not dull
The hour we lived together, look, this man,
This second lover looks me up again
And overwhelms me with a flaming passion.
It seemed he had thought over what I was,
Become all fire for me. He came to me,
And said, I love you, love you, looked at me,
And I could see the love-light in his eyes,
The light that woman knows. Well, I was weak,
Lonely and bored. He stirred my love besides;
And then a curious thought came in my brain:
The spirit is not found save through the flesh,
O holy father, and I thought to self,
Bring, as you may, these trials close together
In point of time and see where spirit is,
Where flesh directs to spirit most. And so
I went with him again, and found in truth
I loved him, he was mine and I was his,
We two were for each other, my old lover
Was just my love's beginning, not my love
Fully and wholly, rapturously, this man
Body and spirit harmonized with me.
I found him through the love of my old lover,
And knew by contrast, memory of the two
And this immediate comparison
Of spirits and of bodies, that this man
Who left me, whom I turned from to the first,
As I have tried to tell you, was the one.
O holy father, he is married, too.
And as I leave for France this ends as well;
No child in me from either. I confess
That I have sinned most grievously, I repent
And promise I shall sin no more."

And so,
I gave her absolution. Well, you see
The church was dark, but I knew who it was,
I knew the voice. She left. Another penitent
Entered with a story. What is this?
Here is a woman who's promiscuous.
Tried number one and then tries number two,
And comes and tells me, she has taken proof,
Weighed evidence of spirit and of body,
And thinks she knows at last, affirms as much.
Such conduct will not do, that's plain enough,
Not even if the truth of love is known
This way, no other way.

Then Father Conway
Began as follows: "I've a case like that,
A woman married, but she found her husband
Was just the cup of Tantulus and so. . . ."

But Father Whimsett said, "Why, look at that,
I'm over-due a quarter of an hour.
Come in to-morrow, father, tell me then."
The two priests rose and left the room together.

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