Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: GREGORY WENNER, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: GREGORY WENNER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Gregory wenner's brother married the mother
Last Line: A secret long concealed: --
Subject(s): Death; God; Love; Marriage; Passion; Dead, The; Weddings; Husbands; Wives


Gregory Wenner's brother married the mother
Of Alma Bell, the daughter of a marriage
The mother made before. Kinship enough
To justify a call on Wenner's power
When Alma Bell was face to face with shame.
And Gregory Wenner went to help the girl,
And for a moment looked on Elenor Murray
Who left the school-room passing through the hall,
A girl of seventeen. He left his business
Of massing millions in the city, to help
Poor Alma Bell, and three years afterward
In the Garden of the Gods he saw again
The face of Elenor Murray -- what a fate
For Gregory Wenner!

But when Alma Bell
Wrote him for help his mind was roiled with cares:
A money magnate had signed up a loan
For half a million, to which Wenner added
That much beside, earned since his thirtieth year,
Now forty-two, with which to build a block
Of sixteen stories on a piece of ground
Leased in the loop for nine and ninety years.
But now a crabbed miser, much away,
Following the sun, and reached through agents, lawyers,
Owning the land next to the Wenner land,
Refused to have the sixteen story wall
Adjoin his wall, without he might select
His son-in-law as architect to plan
The sixteen-story block of Gregory Wenner.
And Gregory Wenner caught in such a trap,
The loan already bargained for and bound
In a hard money lender's giant grasp,
Consented to the terms, let son-in-law
Make plans and supervise the work.

Five years
Go by before the evil blossoms fully;
But here's the bud: Gregory Wenner spent
His half-a-million on the building, also
Four hundred thousand of the promised loan,
Made by the money magnate -- then behold
The money magnate said: "You cannot have
Another dollar, for the bonds you give
Are scarcely worth the sum delivered now
Pursuant to the contract. I have learned
Your architect has blundered, in five years
Your building will be leaning, soon enough
It will be wrecked by order of the city."
And Gregory Wenner found he spoke the truth.
But went ahead to finish up the building,
And raked and scraped, fell back on friends for loans,
Mortgaged his home for money, just to finish
This sixteen-story building, kept a hope
The future would reclaim him.

Gregory Wenner
Who seemed so powerful in his place in life
Had all along this cancer in his life:
He owned the building, but he owed the money,
And all the time the building took a slant,
By just a little every year. And time
Made matters worse for him, increased his foes
As he stood for the city in its warfares
Against the surface railways, telephones;
And earned thereby the wrath of money lenders,
Who made it hard for him to raise a loan,
Who needed loans habitually. Besides
He had the trouble of an invalid wife
Who went from hospitals to sanitariums,
And traveled south, and went in search of health.

Now Gregory Wenner reaches forty-five,
He's fought a mighty battle, but grows tired.
The building leans a little more each year.
And money, as before, is hard to get.
And yet he lives and keeps a hope.

At last
He does not feel so well, has dizzy spells.
The doctor recommends a change of scene.
And Gregory Wenner starts to see the west.
He visits Denver. Then upon a day
He walks about the Garden of the Gods,
And sees a girl who stands alone and looks
About the Garden's wonders. Then he sees
The girl is Elenor Murray, who has grown
To twenty-years, who looks that seventeen
When first he saw her. He remembers her,
And speaks of Alma Bell, that Alma Bell
Is kindred to him. Where is Alma Bell,
He has not heard about her in these years?
And Elenor Murray colors, and says: "Look,
There is a white cloud on the mountain top."
And thus the talk commences.

Elenor Murray
Shows forth the vital spirit that is hers.
She dances on her toes and crows in wonder,
Flings up her arms in rapture. What a world
Of beauty and of hope! For not her life
Of teaching school, a school of Czechs and Poles
There near LeRoy, since she left school and taught,
These two years now, nor arid life at home,
Her father sullen and her mother saddened;
Nor yet that talk of Alma Bell and her
That like a corpse's gas has scented her,
And made her struggles harder in LeRoy --
Not these have quenched her flame, or made it burn
Less brightly. Though at last she left LeRoy
To fly old things, the dreary home, begin
A new life teaching in Los Angeles.
Gregory Wenner studies her and thinks
That Alma Bell was right to reprimand
Elenor Murray for her reckless ways
Of strolling and of riding. And perhaps
Real things were back of ways to be construed
In innocence or wisdom -- for who knows?
His thought ran. Such a pretty face, blue eyes,
And such a buoyant spirit.

So they wandered
About the Garden of the Gods, and took
A meal together at the restaurant.
And as they talked, he told her of himself,
About his wife long ill, this trip for health --
She sensed a music sadness in his soul.
And Gregory Wenner heard her tell her life
Of teaching, of the arid home, the shadow
That fell on her at ten years, when she saw
The hopeless, loveless life of father, mother.
And his great hunger, and his solitude
Reached for the soothing hand of Elenor Murray,
And Elenor Murray having life to give
By her maternal strength and instinct gave.
The man began to laugh, forgot his health,
The learning building, and the money lenders,
And found his void of spirit growing things --
He loved this girl. And Elenor Murray seeing
This strong man with his love, and seeing too
How she could help him, with that venturesome
And prodigal emotion which was hers
Flung all herself to help him, being a soul
Who tried all things in courage, staked her heart
On good to come.

They took the train together.
They stopped at Santa Cruz, and on the rocks
Heard the Pacific dash himself and watched
The moon upon the water, breathed the scent
Of oriental flowerings. There at last
Under the spell of nature Gregory Wenner
Bowed down his head upon his breast and shook
For those long years of striving and of haggling,
And for this girl, but mostly for a love
That filled him now. And when he spoke again
Of his starved life, his homeless years, the girl,
Her mind resolved through thinking she could serve
This man and bring him happiness, but with heart
Flaming to heaven with the miracle
Of love for him, down looking at her hands
Which fingered nervously her dress's hem,
Said with that gasp which made her voice so sweet:
"Do what you will with me, to ease your heart
And help your life."

And Gregory Wenner shaken,
Astonished and made mad with ecstasy
Pressed her brown head against his breast and wept.
And there at Santa Cruz they lived a week,
Till Elenor Murray went to take her school,
He to the north en route for home.

Five years
Had passed since then. And on this day poor Wenner
Looks from a little office at his building
Visibly leaning now, the building lost,
The bonds foreclosed; this is the very day
A court gives a receive charge of it.
And he, these several months reduced to deals
In casual properties, in trivial trades,
Hard pressed for money, has gone up and down
Pursuing prospects, possibilities,
Scanning each day financial sheets and looking
For clues to lead to money. And he finds
His strength and hope not what they were before.
His wife is living on, no whit restored.
And Gregory Wenner thinks, would they not say
I killed myself because I lost my building,
If I should kill myself, and leave a note
That business worries drove me to the deed,
My building this day taken, a receiver
In charge of what I builded out of my dream.
And yet he said to self, that would be false:
It's Elenor Murray's death that makes this life
So hard to bear, and thoughts of Elenor Murray
Make life a torture. First that I had to live
Without her as my wife, and next the fact
That I have taken all her life's thought, ruined
Her chance for home and marriage; that I have seen
Elenor Murray struggle in the world,
And go forth to the war with just the thought
To serve, if it should kill her.

Then his mind
Ran over these five years when Elenor Murray
Throughout gave such devotion, constant thought,
Filled all his mind and heart, and kept her voice
Singing or talking in his memory's ear,
In absence with long letters, when together
With passionate utterances of love. The girl
Loved Gregory Wenner, but the girl had found
A comfort for her spiritual solitude,
And got a strength in taking Wenner's strength.
For at the last one soul lives on another.
And Elenor Murray could not live except
She had a soul to live for, and a soul
On which to pour her passion, taking back
The passion of that soul in recompense.
Gregory Wenner served her power and genius
For giving and for taking so to live,
Achieve and flame; and found them in some moods
Somehow demoniac when his spirits sank,
And drink was all that kept him on his feet.
And so when Elenor Murray came to him
And said this life of teaching was too much,
Could not be longer borne, he thought the time
Had come to end the hopeless love. He raised
The money by the hardest means to pay
Elenor Murray's training as a nurse,
By this to set her free from teaching school,
And then he set about to crush the girl
Out of his life.

For Gregory Wenner saw
Between this passion and his failing thought,
And gray hairs coming, fortune slip like sand.
And saw his mind diffuse itself in worries,
In longing for her: found himself at times
Too much in need of drink, and shrank to see
What wishes rose that death might take his wife,
And let him marry Elenor Murray, cure
His life with having her beside him, dreaming
That somehow Elenor Murray could restore
His will and vision, by her passion's touch,
And mother instinct make him whole again.
But if he could not have her for his wife,
And since the girl absorbed him in this life
Of separation which made longing greater,
Just as it lacked the medium to discharge
The great emotion it created, Wenner
Caught up his shreds of strength to crush her out
Of his life, told her so, when he had raised
The money for her training. For he saw
How ruin may overtake a man, and ruin
Pass by the woman, whom the world would judge
As ruined long ago, But look, he thought,
I pity her, not for our sin, if it be,
But that I have absorbed her life; and yet
The girl is mastering life, while I fall down.
She has absorbed me, if the wrong lies here.
And thus his thought went round.

And Elenor Murray
Accepted what he said and went her way
With words like these: "My love and prayers are yours
While life is with us." Then she turned to study,
And toiled each day till night brought such fatigue
That sleep fell on her. Was it to forget?
And meanwhile she embraced the faith and poured
Her passion driven by a rapturous will
Into religion, trod her path in silence,
Save for a card at Christmas time for him,
Sometimes a little message from some place
Whereto her duty called her.

Gregory Wenner
Stands at the window of his desolate office,
And looks out on his sixteen-story building
Irrevocably lost this day. His mind runs back
To that day in the Garden of the Gods,
That night at Santa Cruz, and then his eyes
Made piercing sharp by sorrow cleave the clay
That lies upon the face of Elenor Murray,
And see the flesh of her the worms have now.
How strange, he thinks, to flit into this life
Singing and radiant, to suffer, toil,
To serve in the war, return to girlhood's scenes,
To die, to be a memory for a day,
Then be forgotten. O, this life of ours.
Why is not God ashamed for graveyards, why
So thoughtless of our passion he lets play
This tragedy.

And Gregory Wenner thought
About the day he stood here, even as now
And heard a step, a voice, and looked around
Saw Elenor Murray, felt her arms again,
Her kiss upon his cheek, and saw her face
As light was beating on it, heard her gasp
In ecstasy for going to the war,
To which that day she gave her pledge. And heard
Her words of consecration. Heard her say,
As though she were that passionate Heloise
Brought into life again: "All I have done
Was done for love of you, all I have asked
Was only you, not what belonged to you.
I did not hope for marriage or for gifts.
I have not gratified my will, desires,
But yours I sought to gratify. I have longed
To be yours wholly, I have kept for self
Nothing, have lived for you, have lived for you
These years when you thought best to crush me out.
And now though there's a secret in my heart,
Not wholly known to me, still I can know it
By seeing you again, I think, by touching
Your hand again. Your life has tortured me,
Both for itself, and since I could not give
Out of my heart enough to make your life
A way of peace, a way of happiness."

Then Gregory Wenner thought how she looked down
And said: "Since I go to the war, would God
Look with disfavor on us if you took me
In your arms wholly once again? My friend,
Not with the thought to leave me soon, but sleeping
Like mates, as birds do, making sleep so sweet
Close to each other as God means we should.
I mingle love of God with love of you,
And in the night-time I can pray for you
With you beside me, find God closer then.
Who knows, you may take strength from such an hour."
Then Gregory Wenner lived that night again,
And the next morning when she rose and shook,
As it were night gathered dew upon fresh wings,
The vital water from her glowing flesh.
And shook her hair out, laughed and said to him:
"Courage and peace, my friend." And how they passed
Among the multitude, when he took her hand
And said farewell, and hastened to this room
To seek for chances in another day,
And never saw her more.

And all these thoughts
Coming on Gregory Wenner swept his soul
Till it seemed like a skiff in mid-sea under
A sky unreckoning, where neither bread,
Nor water, save salt water, were for lips.
And over him descended a blank light
Of life's futility, since now this hour
Life dropped the mask and showed him just a skull.
And a strange fluttering of the nerves came on him,
So that he clutched the window frame, lest he
Spring from the window to the street below.
And he was seized with fear that said to fly,
Go somewhere, find some one, so to draw out
This madness which was one with him and in him,
And which some one in pity must relieve,
Something must cure. And in this sudden horror
Of self, this ebbing of the tides of life,
Leaving his shores to visions, where he saw
Horrible creatures stir amid the slime,
Gregory Wenner hurried from the room
And walked the streets to find his thought again
Wherewith to judge if he should kill himself
Or look to find a path in life once more.

And Gregory Wenner sitting in his club
Wrote to his brother thus: "I cannot live
Now that my business is so tangled up,
Bury my body by my father's side."
Next day the papers headlined Gregory Wenner:
"Loss of a building drives to suicide."

Elenor Murray's death kills Gregory Wenner
And Gregory Wenner dying make a riffle
In Mrs. Wenner's life -- reveals to her
A secret long concealed: --





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