Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: HENRY MURRAY, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: HENRY MURRAY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Henry murray, father of elenor murray
Last Line: The while she spoke:
Subject(s): Death; Family Life; Marriage; Youth; Dead, The; Relatives; Weddings; Husbands; Wives


Henry Murray, father of Elenor Murray,
Willing to tell the coroner Merival
All things about himself, about his wife,
All things as well about his daughter, touching
Her growth, and home life, if the coroner
Would hear him privately, save on such things
Strictly relating to the inquest, went
To Coroner Merival's office and thus spoke:
I was born here some sixty years ago,
Was nurtured in these common schools, too poor
To satisfy a longing for a college.
Felt myself gifted with some gifts of mind,
Some fineness of perception, thought, began
By twenty years to gather books and read
Some history, philosophy and science.
Had vague ambitions, analyzed perhaps,
To learn, he wise.

Now if you study me,
Look at my face, you'll see some trace of her:
My brow is hers, my mouth is hers, my eyes
Of lighter color are yet hers, this way
I have of laughing, as I saw inside
The matter deeper cause for laughter, hers.
And my jaw hers betokening a will,
Hers too, with chin that mitigates the will,
Shading to softness as hers did.

Our minds
Had something too in common: first this will
Which tempted fate to bend it, break it too --
I know not why in her case or in mine.
But when my will is bent I grow morose,
And when it's broken, I become a scourge
To all around me. Yes, I've visited
A life-time's wrath upon my wife. This daughter
When finding will subdued did not give up,
But took the will for something else -- went on
By ways more prosperous; but alas! poor me!
I hold on when defeated, and lie down
When I am beaten, growling, ruminate
Upon my failure, think of nothing else.
But truth to tell, while we two were opposed,
This daughter and myself, while temperaments
Kept us at sword's points, while I saw in her
Traits of myself I liked not, also traits
Of the child's mother which I loathe, because
They have undone me, helped at least -- no less
I see this child as better than myself,
And better than her mother, so admire.
Also I never trusted her; as a child
She would rush in relating lying wonders;
She feigned emotions, purposes and moods;
She was a little actress from the first,
And all her high resolves from first to last
Seemed but a robe with flowing sleeves in which
Her hands could hide some theft, some secret spoil.
When she was fourteen I could see in her
The passionate nature of her mother -- well
You know a father's feelings when he sees
His daughter sensed by youths and lusty men
As one of the kind for capture. It's a theme
A father cannot talk of with his daughter.
He may say, "have a care," or "I forbid
Your strolling, riding with these boys at night."
But if the daughter stands and eyes the father,
As she did me with flaming eyes, then goes
Her way in secret, lies about her ways,
The father can but wonder, watch or brood,
Or switch her maybe, for I switched her once,
And found it did no good. I needed here
The mother's aid, but no, her mother saw
Herself in the girl, and said she knew the girl,
That I was too suspicious, out of touch
With a young girl's life, desire for happiness.
But when this Alma Bell affair came up,
And the school principal took pains to say
My daughter was too reckless of her name
In strolling and in riding, then my wife
Howled at me like a tigress: whip that man!
And as my daughter cried, and my wife screeched,
And called me coward if I let him go,
I rushed out to the street and finding him
Beat up his face, though almost dropping dead
From my exertion. Well, the aftermath
Was worse for me, not only by the talk,
But in my mind who saw no gratitude
In daughter or in mother for my deed.
The daughter from that day took up a course
More secret from my eyes, more variant
From any wish I had. We stood apart,
And grew apart thereafter. And from that day
My wife grew worse in temper, worse in nerves.
And though the people say she is my slave,
That I alone, of all who live, have conquered
Her spirit, still what despotism works
Free of reprisals, or of breakings-forth
When hands are here, not there?

But to return:
One takes up something for a livelihood,
And dreams he'll leave it later, when in time
His plans mature; and as he earns and lives,
With some time for his plans, hopes for the day
When he may step forth from his olden life
Into a new life made thus gradually,
I hoped to be a lawyer; but to live
I started as a drug clerk -- look to-day
I own that little drug store -- here I am
With drugs my years through, drugged myself at last.
And as a clerk I met my wife -- went mad
About her, and I see in Elenor
Her mother's gift for making fools of men.
Why, I can scarce explain it, it's the flesh,
But then it's spirit too. Such flaming up
As came from flames like ours, but more of hers
Burned in the children. Yes, it might be well
For theorists in heredity to think
About the matter.

Well, but how about
The flames that make the children? For this woman
Too surely ruined me and sapped my life.
You hear much of the vampire, but what wife
Has not more chance for eating up a man?
She has him daily, has him fast for years.
A man can shake a vampire off, but how
To shake a wife off, when the children come,
And you must leave your place, your livelihood
To shake her off? And if you shake her off
Where do you go? what do you do? and how?
You see 'twas love that caught me, yet even so
I had resisted love had I not seen
A chance to rise through marriage. It was this:
You know, of course, my wife was Elenor Fouche,
Daughter of Arthur, thought to be so rich.
And I had hopes to patch my fortunes up
In this alliance, and become a lawyer.
What happened? Why they helped me not at all.
The children came, and I was chained to work,
To clothe and feed a family -- all the while
My soul combusted with this aspiration,
And my good nature went to ashes, dampened
By secret tears which filtered through as lye.
Then finally, when my wife's father died,
After our marriage, twenty years or so,
His fortune came to nothing, all she got
Went to that little house we live in here --
It needs paint now, the porch has rotten boards --
And I was forced to see these children learn
What public schools could teach, and even as I
Left school half taught, and never went to college,
So did these children, saving Elenor,
Who saw two years of college -- earned herself
By teaching. I choke up, just wait a minute!
What depths of calmness may a man come to
As father, who can think of this and be
Quiet about his heart? His heart will hurt,
Move, as it were, as a worm does with its pain.
And these days now, when trembling hands and head
Foretell decline, or worse, and make me think
As face to face with God, most earnestly,
Most eager for the truth, I wonder much
If I misjudged this daughter, canvass her
Myself to see if I had power to do
A better part by her. That is the way
This daughter has got in my soul. At first
She incubates in me as force unknown,
A spirit strange yet kindred, in my life;
And we are hostile and yet drawn together;
But when we're drawn together see and feel
These oppositions. Next she's in my life --
The second stage of the fever -- as dislike,
Repugnance, and I wish her out of sight,
Out of my life. Then comes these ugly things,
Like Alma Bell, and rumors from away
Where she is teaching, and I put her out
Of life and thought the more, and wonder why
I fathered such a nature, whence it came.
Well, then the fever goes and I am weak,
Repentant it may be, delirious visions
That haunted me in fever plague me yet,
Even while I think them visions, nothing else.
So I grow pitiful and blame myself
For any part I had in her mistakes,
Sorrows and struggles, and I curse myself
That I was powerless to help her more --
Thus is she like a fever in my life.

Well, then the child grows up. But as a child
She dances, laughs and sings. At three years springs
For minutes and for minutes on her toes,
Like skipping rope, clapping her hands the while,
Her blue eyes twinkling, and her milk-white teeth
Glistening as she gurgled, shouted, laughed --
There never was such vital strength. I give
The pictures as my memory took them. Next
I see her looking side-ways at me, as if
She studied me, avoided me. The child
Is now ten years of age; and now I know
She smelled the rats that made the family hearth
A place for scampering; the horrors of our home.
She thought I brought the rats and kept them there,
These rats of bickering, anger, strife at home.
I knew she blamed me for her mother's moods
Who dragged about the kitchen day by day,
Sad faced and silent. So the upshot was
I had two enemies in the house, where once
I had but one, her mother. This made worse
The state for both, and worse the state for me.
And so it goes. Then next there's Alma Bell.
The following year my daughter finished up
The High School -- and we sit -- my wife and I
To see the exercises. And that summer Elenor,
Now eighteen and a woman, goes about --
I don't know what she does, sometimes I see
Some young man with her walking. But at home,
When I come in, the mother and the daughter
Put pedals on their talk, or change the theme --
I am shut out.

And in the fall I learn
From some outside that she's teaching school,
And later people laugh and talk to me
About her feat of cowing certain Czechs,
Who broke her discipline in school.

Well, then
Two years go on that have no memory,
Just like sick days in bed when you lie there
And wake and sleep and wait. But finally
Her mother says: "To-night our Elenor
Leaves for Los Angeles." And then the mother,
To hide a sob, coughs nervously and leaves
The room where I am, for the kitchen -- I
Sit with the evening paper, let it fall,
Then hold it up to read again and try
To say to self, "All right, what if she goes?"
The evening meal goes hard, for Elenor
Shines forth in kindness for me, talks and laughs --
I choke again. . . . She says to me if God
Had meant her for a better youth, then God
Had given her a better youth; she thanks me
For making High School possible to her,
And says all will be well -- she will earn money
To go to college, that she will gain strength
By helping self -- Just think, my friend, to hear
Such words, which in their kindness proved my failure,
When I had hoped, aspired, when I had given
My very soul, whether I liked this daughter,
Or liked her not, out of a generous hand,
Large hearted in its carelessness to give
A daughter of such mind a place in life,
And schooling for the place.

The meal was over.
We stood there silent; then her face grew wet
With tears, as wet as blossoms soaked with rain.
She took my hand and took her mother's hand,
And put our hands together -- then she said:
"Be friends, be friends," and hurried from the room,
Her mother following. I stepped out-doors,
And stood what seemed a minute, entered again,
Walked to the front room, from the window saw
Elenor and her mother in the street.
The girl was gone! How could I follow them?
They had not asked me. So I stood and saw
The canvas telescope her mother carried.
They disappeared. I went back to my store,
Came back at nine o'clock, lighted a match
And saw my wife in bed, cloths on her eyes.
She turned her face to the wall, and didn't speak.

Next morning at the breakfast table she,
Complaining of a stiff arm, said: "that satchel
Was weighted down with books, my arm is stiff --
Elenor took French books to study French.
When she can pay a teacher, she will learn
How to pronounce the words, but by herself
She'll learn the grammar, how to read." She knew
How words like that would hurt!

I merely said:
"A happy home is better than knowing French,"
And went off to my store.

But coroner,
Search for the men in her life. When she came
Back from the West after three years, I knew
By look of her eyes that some one filled her life,
Had taken her life and body. What if I
Had failed as father in the way I failed?
And what if our home was not home to her?
She could have married -- why not? If a girl
Can fascinate the men -- I know she could --
She can have marriage, if she wants to marry.
Unless she runs to men already married,
And if she does so, don't you make her out
As loose and bad?

Well, what is more to tell?
She learned French, seemed to know the ways of the world,
Knew books, knew how to dress, gave evidence
Of contact with refinements; letters came
When she was here at intervals inscribed
In writing of elite ones, gifted maybe.
And she was filial and kind to me,
Most kind toward her mother, gave us things
At Christmas time. But still her way was such
That I as well had been familiar with her
As with some formal lady visiting.
She came back here before she went to France,
Staid two days with us. Once upon the porch
She turned to me and said: "I wish to honor
Mother and you by serving in the war.
You must rejoice that I can serve -- you must!
But most I wish to honor America,
This land of promise, of fulfillment, too,
Which proves to all the world that men and women
Are born alike of God, at least that riches
And classes formed in pride have neither hearts,
Nor minds above the souls of those who work.
This land that reared me is my dearest love,
I go to serve the country."

Pardon me!
A man of my age in an hour like this
Must cry a little -- wait till I can say
The last words that she said to me.

She put
Her arms about me, then she said to me:
"I am so glad my life and place in life
Were such that I was forced to rise or sink,
To strive or fail. God has been good to me,
Who gifted me with spirit to aspire."
I go back to my store now. In these days,
Last days, of course, I try to be a husband,
Try to be kinder to the mother of Elenor.
Death is not far off, and that makes us think.
We may be over soft or penitent;
Forgive where we should hate still, being soft;
And fade off from the wrongs, we brooded on;
And cease to care life has been badly lived,
From first to last. But none the less our vision
Seems clearer as we end this trivial life.
And so I try to be a kinder husband
To Elenor's mother.

So spoke Henry Murray
To Merival; a stenographer took down
His words, and they were written out and shown
The jury. Afterward the mother came
And told her story to the coroner,
Also reported, written out, and shown
The jury. But it happened thus with her:
She waited in the coroner's outer room
Until her husband told his story, then
With eyes upon the floor, passing her husband,
The two in silence passing, as he left
The coroner's office, spoke amid her sighs,
Her breath long drawn at intervals, looking down
The while she spoke:





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