Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: IRMA LEESE, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: IRMA LEESE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Elenor murray landing in new york
Last Line: Before the jury. Here is what she wrote: --
Subject(s): Death; Letters; Love; Dead, The


Elenor Murray landing in New York,
After a weary voyage, none too well,
Staid in the city for a week and then
Upon a telegram from Irma Leese,
Born Irma Fouche, her aunt who lived alone
This summer in the Fouche house near LeRoy,
Came west to visit Irma Leese and rest.

For Elenor Murray had not been herself
Since that hard spring when in the hospital,
Caring for soldiers stricken with the flu,
She took bronchitis, after weeks in bed
Rose weak and shaky, crept to health again
Through egg-nogs, easy strolls about Bordeaux.
And later went to Nice upon a furlough
To get her strength again.

But while she saw
Her vital flame burn brightly, as of old
On favored days, yet for the rest the flame
Sputtered or sank a little. So she thought
How good it might be to go west and stroll
About the lovely country of LeRoy,
And hear the whispering cedars by a window
In the Fouche mansion where this Irma Leese,
Her aunt, was summering. So she telegraphed,
And being welcomed, went.

This stately house,
Built sixty years before by Arthur Fouche,
A brick home with a mansard roof, an oriel
That looked between the cedars, and a porch
With great Ionic columns, from the street
Stood distantly amid ten acres of lawn,
Trees, flower plots -- belonged to Irma Leese,
Who had reclaimed it from a chiropractor,
To cleanse the name of Fouche from that indignity,
And bring it in the family again,
Since she had spent her girlhood, womanhood
To twenty years amid its twenty rooms.
For Irma Leese at twenty years had married
And found herself at twenty-five a widow,
With money left her, then had tried again,
And after years dissolved the second pact,
And made a settlement, was rich in fact,
Now forty-two. Five years before had come
And found the house she loved a sanitarium,
A chiropractor's home. And as she stood
Beside the fence and saw the oriel,
Remembered all her happiness on this lawn
With brothers and with sisters, one of whom
Was Elenor Murray's mother, then she willed
To buy the place and spend some summers here.
And here she was the summer Elenor Murray
Returned from France.

And Irma Leese had said:
"Here is your room, it has the oriel,
And there's the river and the hills for you.
Have breakfast in your room what hour you will,
Rise when you will. We'll drive and walk and rest,
Run to Chicago when we have a mind.
I have a splendid chauffeur now and maids.
You must grow strong and well."

And Elenor Murray
Gasped out her happiness for the pretty room,
And stood and viewed the river and the hills,
And wept a little on the gentle shoulder
Of Irma Leese.

And so the days had passed
Of walking, driving, resting, many talks;
For Elenor Murray spoke to Irma Leese
Of tragic and of rapturous days in France,
And Irma Leese, though she had lived full years,
Had scarcely lived as much as Elenor Murray,
And could not hear enough from Elenor Murray
Of the war and France, but mostly she would urge
Her niece to tell of what affairs of love
Had come to her. And Elenor Murray told
Of Gregory Wenner, save she did not tell
The final secret, with a gesture touched
The story off by saying: It was hopeless,
I went into religion to forget.
But on a day she said to Irma Leese:
"I almost met my fate at Nice," then sketched
A hurried picture of a brief romance.
But Elenor Murray told her nothing else
Of loves or men. But all the while the aunt
Weighed Elenor Murray, on a day exclaimed:
"I see myself in you, and you are like
Your Aunt Corinne who died in ninety-two.
I'll tell you all about your Aunt Corinne
Some day when we are talking, but I see
You have the Fouche blood -- we are lovers all.
Your mother is a lover, Elenor,
If you would know it."

"O, your Aunt Corinne
She was most beautiful, but unfortunate.
Her husband was past sixty when she married,
And she was thirty-two. He was distinguished,
Had money and all that, but youth is all,
Is everything for love, and she was young,
And he was old."

A week or two had passed
Since Elenor Murray came to Irma Leese,
When on a morning fire broke from the eaves
And menaced all the house; but maids and gardeners
With buckets saved the house, while Elenor Murray
And Irma Leese dipped water from the barrels
That stood along the ell.

A week from that
A carpenter was working at the eaves
Along the ell, and in the garret knelt
To pry up boards and patch. When as he pried
A board up, he beheld between the rafters
A package of old letters stained and frayed,
Tied with a little ribbon almost dust.
And when he went down-stairs, delivered it
To Irma Leese and said: Here are some letters
I found up in the garret under the floor,
I pried up in my work.

Then Irma Leese
Looked at the letters, saw her sister's hand,
Corinne's upon the letters, opened, read,
And saw the story which she knew before
Brought back in this uncanny way, the hand
Which wrote the letters six and twenty years
Turned back to dust. And when her niece came in
She showed the letters, said, "I'll let you read,
I'll tell you all about them":

"When Corinne
Was nineteen, very beautiful and vital,
Red-cheeked, a dancer, bubbling like new wine,
A catch, as you may know, you see this house
Was full of laughter then, so many children.
We had our parties, too, and young men thought,
Each one of us would have a dowry splendid --
A young man from Chicago came along,
A lawyer there, but lately come from Pittsburgh
To practice, win his way. I knew this man.
He was a handsome dog with curly hair,
Blue eyes and sturdy figure. Well, Corinne
Quite lost her heart. He came here to a dance,
And so the game commenced. And father thought
The fellow was not right, but all of us,
Your mother and myself said, yes he is,
And we conspired to help Corinne and smooth
The path of confidence. But later on
Corinne was not so buoyant, would not talk
With me, your mother freely. Then at last
Her eyes were sometimes red; we knew she wept.
And, then Corinne was sent away. Well, here
You'll guess the rest. Her health was breaking down,
That's true enough; the world could think its thoughts,
And say his love grew cold, or she found out
The black-leg that he was, and he was that.
But Elenor, the truth was more than that,
Corinne had been betrayed, she went away
To right herself -- these letters prove the case,
Which all the gossips, busy as they were,
Could not make out. The paper at LeRoy
Had printed that she went to pay a visit
To relatives in the east. Three months or so
She came back well and rosy. But meanwhile
Your grandfather had paid this shabby scoundrel
A sum of money, I forget the sum,
To get these letters of your Aunt Corinne --
These letters here. This matter leaked, of course.
And then we let the story take this form
And moulded it a little to this form:
The fellow was a scoundrel -- this was proved
When he took money to return her letters.
They were love letters, they had been engaged,
She thought him worthy, found herself deceived
Proved, too, by taking money, when at first
He looked with honorable eyes to young Corinne,
And won her trust. And so Corinne lived here
Ten years or more, at thirty married the judge,
Her senior thirty years, and went away.
She bore a child and died -- look Elenor
Here are the letters which she took and nailed
Beneath the garret floor. We'll read them through,
And then I'll burn them."

Irma Leese rose up
And put the letters in her desk and said:
"Let's ride along the river." So they rode,
But as they rode, the day being clear and mild
The fancy took them to Chicago, where
They lunched and spent the afternoon, returning
At ten o'clock that night.

And the next morning
When Irma Leese expected Elenor
To rise and join her, asked for her, a maid
Told Irma Leese that Elenor had gone
To walk somewhere. And all that day she waited.
But as night came, she fancied Elenor
Had gone to see her mother, once rose up
To telephone, then stopped because she felt
Elenor might have plans she would not wish
Her mother to get wind of -- let it go.
But when night came, she wondered, fell asleep
With wondering and worry.

But next morning
As she was waiting for the car to come
To motor to LeRoy, and see her sister,
Elenor's mother, in a casual way,
Learn if her niece was there, and waiting read
The letters of Corinne, the telephone
Rang in an ominous way, and Irma Leese
Sprang up to answer, got the tragic word
Of Elenor Murray found beside the river.
Left all the letters spilled upon her desk
And motored to the river, to LeRoy
Where Coroner Merival took the body.

Just
As Irma Leese departed, in the room
A sullen maid revengeful for the fact
She was discharged, was leaving in a day,
Entered and saw the letters, read a little,
And gathered them, went to her room and packed
Her telescope and left, went to LeRoy,
And gave a letter to this one and that,
Until the servant maids and carpenters
And some lubricous fellows at LeRoy
Who made companions of these serving maids,
Had each a letter of the dead Corinne,
Which showed at last, after some twenty years,
Of silence and oblivion, to LeRoy
With memory to refresh, that poor Corinne
Had given her love, herself, had been betrayed,
Abandoned by a scoundrel.

Merival,
The Coroner, when told about the letters,
For soon the tongues were wagging in LeRoy,
Went here and there to find them, till he learned
What quality of love the dead Corinne
Had given to this man. Then shook his head,
Resolved to see if he could not unearth
In Elenor Murray's life some faithless lover
Who sought her death.

The letters' riffle crawled
Through shadows of the waters of LeRoy
Until it looked a snake, was seen as such
In Tokio by Franklin Hollister,
The son of dead Corinne; it seemed a snake:
He heard the coroner through neglect or malice
Had let the letters scatter -- not the truth; --
The coroner had gathered up the letters,
Befriending Irma Leese; she got them back
Through Merival. The riffle's just the same.
And hence this man in Tokio is crazed
For shame and fear -- for fear the girl he loves
Will hear his mother's story and break off
Her marriage promise.

So in reckless rage
He posts a letter off to Lawyer Hood,
Chicago, Illinois -- the coroner
Gets all the story through this Lawyer Hood,
Long after Elenor's inquest is at end.
Meantime he cools, is wiser, thinks it bad
To stir the scandal with a suit at law.
And then when cooled he hears from Lawyer Hood
Who tells him what the truth is. So it ends.

These letters and the greenish wave that coiled
At Tokio is beyond the coroner's eye
Fixed on the water where the pebble fell: --
This death of Elenor, circles close at hand
Engage his interest. Now he seeks to learn
About her training and religious life.
And hears of Miriam Fay, a friend he thinks,
And confidant of her religious life,
Head woman of the school where Elenor
Learned chemistry, materia medica,
Anatomy, to fit her for the work
Of nursing. And he writes this Miriam Fay
And Miriam Fay responds. The letter comes
Before the jury. Here is what she wrote: --





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