Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: GOTTLIEB GERALD, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: GOTTLIEB GERALD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I knew her, why of course. And you want me?
Last Line: This talk of lilli alm and ludwig haibt:
Subject(s): Death; Hate; Home; Nature; Singing & Singers; Dead, The; Songs


I knew her, why of course. And you want me?
What can I say? I don't know how she died.
I know what people say. But if you want
To hear about her, as I knew the girl,
Sit down a minute. Wait, a customer! . . .
It was a fellow with a bill, these fellows
Who come for money make me smile. Good God!
Where shall I get the money, when pianos,
Such as I make, are devilish hard to sell?
Now listen to this tune! Dumm, dumm, dumm, dumm,
How's that for quality, sweet clear and pure?
Now listen to these chords I take from Bach!
Oh no, I never played much, just for self.
Well, you might say my passion for this work
Is due to this: I pick the wire strings,
The spruce boards and all that for instruments
That suit my ear at last. When I have built
A piano, then I sit and play upon it,
And find forgetfulness and rapture through it.
And well I need forgetfulness, for the bills
Are never paid, collectors always come.
I keep a little lawyer almost busy,
Lest some one get a judgment, levy a writ
Upon my prizes here, this one in chief.
Oh, well, I pay at last, I always pay,
But I must have my time. And in the days
When these collectors swarm too much I find
Oblivion in music, run my hands
Over the keys I've tuned. I wish I had
Some life of Cristofori, just to see
If he was dodging bills when tuning strings.
Perhaps that Silberman who made pianos
For Frederick the Great had money enough,
And needed no oblivion from bills.
You see I'm getting old now, sixty-eight;
And this I say, that life is far too short
For man to use his conquests and his wisdoms.
This spirit, mind, is a machine, piano,
And has its laws of harmony and use.
Well, it seems funny that a man just learns
The secrets of his being, how to love,
How to forget, what to select, what life
Is natural to him, and only living
According to one's nature is increase --
All else is waste -- when wind blows on your back,
Just as I sit sometimes when these collectors
Come in on me -- and so you find it's Death,
Who levies on your life; no little lawyer
Can keep him off with stays of execution,
Or supersedeas, I think it is.
Well, as I said, a man must live his nature,
And dump the rules; this Christianity
Makes people wear steel corsets to grow straight,
And they don't grow so, for they scarcely breathe,
They're laced so tight; and all their vital organs
Are piled up and repressed until they groan.
Then what? They lace up tighter, till the blood
Stops in the veins and numbness comes upon them.
Oblivion it may be -- but give me music!

Oh yes, this girl, Elenor Murray, well
This talk about her home is half and half,
Part true, part false. Her daddy nips a little,
Has always done so. Like myself, the bills
Have always deviled him. But just the same
That home was not so bad. Some years ago,
She was a little girl of thirteen maybe,
Her father rented one of my pianos
For Elenor to learn on, and of course
The rent was always back, I didn't care,
Except for my collectors, and besides
She was so nice. So music hungry, practiced
So hard to learn, I used to let the rent
Run just as long as I could let it run.
And even then I used to feel ashamed
To ask her father for it.

As I said
She was thirteen, and one Thanksgiving day
They asked me there to dinner, and I went,
Brushed off my other coat and shaved myself,
I looked all right, my shoes were polished too.
You'd never think I polished them to look
At these to-day. And now I tell you what
I saw myself: nice linen on the table,
And pretty silver, plated, I suppose;
Good glass-ware, and a dinner that was splendid,
Wine made from wild grapes spiced with cinnamon,
It had a kick, too. And the home was furnished
Like what you'd think: good carpets, chairs, a lounge,
Some pictures on the wall -- all good enough.
And this girl was as lively as a cricket,
She was the liveliest thing I ever saw;
And that's what ailed her, if you want my word.
She had more life than she knew how to use,
And had not learned her own machine.

And after
We had the dinner we came in the parlor.
And then her mother asked her to play something,
And she sat down and played tra-la; tra-la,
One of these waltzes, I remember now
As pretty as these verses in the paper
On love, or something sentimental. Yes,
She played it well. For I had rented them
One of my pets. They asked me then to play
And I tried out some Bach and other things,
And improvised. And Elenor stood by,
And asked what's that when I was improvising.
I laughed and said, Sonata of Starved Rock,
Or Deer Park Glen in Winter, anything --
She looked at me with eyes as big as that.

Well, as I said, the home was good enough.
Still like myself with these collectors, Elenor
Was bothered, drawn aside, and scratched no doubt
From walking through the briars. Just the same
The trouble with her life, if it was trouble,
And no musician would regard it trouble,
The trouble was her nature strove to be
All fire, and subtilize to the essence of fire,
Which was her nature's law, and Nature's law,
The only normal law, as I have found;
For so Canudo says, as I read lately,
Who gave me words for what I knew from life.

Now if you want my theories I go on.
You do? All right. What was this Elenor Murray?
She was the lover, do you understand?
She had her lovers maybe, I don't know,
That's not the point with lovers, any more,
Than it's the point to have pianos -- no!
Lovers, pianos are the self-same thing;
Instruments for the soul, the source of fire,
The crucible for flames that turn from red
To blue, then white, then fierce transparencies.
Then if the lover be not known by lovers
How is she known? Why think of Elenor Murray,
Who tries all things and educates herself,
Goes traveling, would sing and play, becomes
A member of a church with ritual, music,
Incense and color, things that steal the senses,
And bring oblivion. Don't you see the girl
Moving her soul to find her soul, and passing
Through loves and hatreds, seeking everywhere
Herself she loved, in others, agonizing
For hate of father, so they tell me now?
But first because she hated in herself
What lineaments of her father she saw in self.
And all the while, I think, she strove to conquer
This hatred, every hatred, sensing freedom
For her own soul through liberating self
From hatreds. So, you see how someone near,
Repugnant, disesteemed, may furnish strength
And vision, too, by gazing on that one
From day to day, not to be like that one:
And so our hatreds help us, those we hate
Become our saviors.

Here's the problem now
In finding self, the soul -- it's with ourselves,
Within ourselves throughout the ticklish quest
From first to last, and lovers and pianos
Are instruments of salvation, yet they take
The self but to the self, and say now find,
Explore and know. And then, as all before,
The problem is how much of mind to use,
How much of instinct, phototropic sense,
That turns instinctively to light -- green worms
More plant than animal are eyes all over
Because their bodies know the light, no eyes
Where sight is centralized. I've found it now:
What is the intellect but eyes, where sight
Is gathered in two spheres? The more they're used
The darker is the body of the soul.
Now to digress, that's why the Germans lost,
They used the intellect too much; they took
The sea of life and tried to dam it in,
Or use it for canals or water power,
Or make a card-case system of it, maybe,
To keep collectors off, have all run smoothly,
And make a sure thing of it.

To return
How much did Elenor Murray use her mind,
How much her instincts, leave herself alone
Let nature have its way? I think I know:

But first you have the artist soul; and next
The soul half artist, prisoned usually
In limitations where the soul, half artist
Between depressions and discouragements
Rises in hope and knocks. Why, I can tell them
The moment they touch keys or talk to me.
I hear their knuckles knocking on the walls,
Insuperable partitions made of wood,
When seeking tones or words; they have the hint,
But cannot open, manifest themselves.
So was it with this girl, she was all lover,
Half artist, what a torture for a soul,
And what escape for her! She could not play,
Had never played, no matter what the chance.
I think there is no curse like being dumb
When every waking moment, every dream
Keeps crying to speak out. This is her case:
The girl was dumb, like that dumb woman here
Whose dress caught fire, and in the dining room
Was burned to death while all her family
Were in the house, to whom she could not cry!

You asked about her going to the war,
Her sacrifice in that and if I think
She found expression there -- yes, of a kind,
But not the kind she hungered for, not music.
She found adventure there, excitement too.
That uses up the soul's power, takes the place
Of better self-expression. But you see
I do not think self-immolation life,
I know it to be death. Now, look a minute:
Why did she join the church? why to forget!
Why did she go to war? why to forget.
And at the last, this thing called sacrifice
Rose up with meaning in her eyes. You see
They tell around here now she often said:
"I'm going to the war to be swept under."
Now comes your Christian idea: Let me die,
But die in service of the race, in giving
I waste myself for others, give myself!
Let God take notice, and reward the gift!
This is the failure's recourse often-times,
A prodigal flinging of the self -- let God
Find what He can of good, or find all good.
I have abandoned all control, all thought
Of finding my soul otherwise, if here
I find my soul, a doubt that makes the gift
Not less abandoned.

This is foolish talk
I know you think, I think it is myself,
At least in part. I know I'm right, however,
In guessing off the reason of her failure,
If failure it is. But pshaw, why talk of failure
About a woman born to live the life
She lived, which could not have been different,
Much different under any circumstance?
She might have married, had a home and children,
What of it? As it is she makes a story,
A flute sound in our symphony -- all right!
And I confess, in spite of all I've said,
The profit, the success, may not be known
To any but one's self. Now look at me,
By all accounts I am a failure -- look!
For forty years just making poor ends meet,
My love all spent in making good pianos.
I thrill all over picking spruce and wires,
And putting them together -- all my love
Gone into this, no head at all for business.
I keep no books, they cheat me out of rent.
I don't know how to sell pianos, when
I sell one I have trouble oftentimes
In getting pay for it. But just the same
I sit here with myself, I know myself,
I've found myself, and when collectors come
I can say come to-morrow, turn about,
And run the scale, or improvise, and smile,
Forget the world!

The three arose and left.
Llewellyn George said: "That's a rarity,
That man is like a precious flower you find
Way off among the weeds and rocky soil,
Grown from a seed blown out of paradise;
I want to call again."

So thus they knew
This much of Elenor Murray's music life.
But on a day a party talk at tea,
Of Elenor Murray and her singing voice
And how she tried to train it -- just a riffle
Which passed unknown of Merival. For you know
Your name may come up in a thousand places
At earth's ends, though you live, and do not die
And make a great sensation for a day.
And all unknown to Merival for good
This talk of Lilli Alm and Ludwig Haibt:





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