Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: LILLI ALM, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: LILLI ALM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: In lola schaefer's studio in the tower
Last Line: Is lodged in father whimsett's heart or words.
Subject(s): Art & Artists; Confessions; Religion; Soul; Theology


In Lola Schaefer's studio in the Tower,
Tea being served to painters, poets, singers,
Herr Ludwig Haibt, a none too welcome guest,
Of vital body, brisk, too loud of voice,
And Lilli Alm crossed swords.

It came about
When Ludwig Haibt said: "Have you read the papers
About this Elenor Murray?" And then said:
"I tried to train her voice -- she was a failure."
And Lilli Alm who taught the art of song
Looked at him half contemptuous and said:
"Why did she fail?" To which Herr Ludwig answered
"She tried too hard. She made her throat too tense,
And made its muscles stiff by too much thought,
Anxiety for song, the vocal triumph."

"O, yes, I understand," said Lilli Alm.
Then stabbing him she added, "since you dropped
The Perfect Institute, and dropped the idea
Which stresses training muscles of the tongue,
And all that thing, be fair and shoulder half
The failure of poor Elenor Murray on
Your system's failure. For I chanced to know
The girl myself. She started work with me,
And I am sure that if I had been able --
With time enough I could have done it too --
To rid her mind of muscles and to fix
The thought alone of music in her mind,
She would have sung. Now listen, Ludwig Haibt,
You've come around to see that song's the thing.
I take a pupil and I say to her:
The mind must fix itself on music, say
I would make song, pure tones and beautiful;
That comes from spirit, from the Plato rapture,
Which gets the idea. It is well to know
Some physiology, I grant, to know
When, how to move the vocal organs, feel
How they are moving, through the ear to place
These organs in relation, and to know
The soft palate is drawn against the hard;
The tongue can take positions numerous,
Can be used at the root, a throaty voice;
Or with the tip, produce expressiveness.

But what must we avoid? -- rigidity.
And if that girl was over-zealous, then
So much the more her teaching should have kept
Mind off the larynx and the tongue, and fixed
Upon the spiritual matters, so to give
The snake-like power of loosening, contracting
The muscles used for singing. Ludwig Habit,
I can forgive your system, since abandoned,
I can't forgive your words to-day who say
This woman failed for trying over much,
When I know that your system made her throw
An energy truly wonderful on muscles;
And when I think of your book where you said:
The singing voice is the result, observe
Of physical conditions, like the strings
Or tubes of brass. While granting that it's well
To know the art of tuning up the strings,
And how to place them; after all the art
Of tuning and of placing comes from mind,
The idea, and the art of making song
Is just the breathing of the perfect spirit
Upon the strings. The throat is but the leaves,
Let them be flexible, the mouth's the flower,
The tone the perfume. And your olden way
Of harping on the larynx -- well, since you
Turned from it, I'm ungenerous perhaps
To scold you thus to-day.

But this I say,
Let us be frank as teachers: Take the fetich
Of breathing and see how you cripple talent,
Or take that matter of the laryngyscope,
Whereby you photograph a singer's throat,
Caruso's, Galli Curci's at the moment
Of greatest beauty in song, and thus preserve
In photographs before you how the muscles
Looked and were placed that moment. Then attempt
To get the like effect by placing them
In similar fashion. Oh, you know, Herr Ludwig,
These fetiches go by. One thing remains:
The idea in the soul of beauty, music,
The hope to give it forth.

Alas! to think
So many souls are wasted while we teach
This thing or that. The strong survive, of course.
But take this Elenor Murray -- why, that girl
Was just a flame, I never saw such hunger
For self-development, and beauty, richness,
In all experience in life -- I knew her,
That's why I say so -- take her as I say,
And put her to a practice -- yours we'll say --
Where this great zeal she had is turned and pressed
Upon the physical, just the very thing
To make her throat constrict, and fill her up
With over anxiety and make her fail.
When had she come to me at first this passion
Directed to the beauty, the idea
Had put her soul at ease to ease her body,
Which gradually and beautifully had answered
That flame of hers.

Well, Ludwig Haibt, you're punished
For wasting several years upon a system
Since put away as half erroneous,
If not quite worthless. But I must confess,
Since I have censured you, to my own sin.
This girl ran out of money, came to me
And told me so. To which I said: "Too bad,
You will have money later, when you do,
Come back to me." She stood a silent moment,
Her hand upon the knob, I saw her tears,
Just little dim tears, then she said good-bye
And vanished from me.

Well, I now repent.
I who have thought of beauty all my life,
And taught the art of sound made beautiful,
Let slip a chance for beauty -- why, I think,
A beauty just as great as song! You see
I had a chance to serve a hungering soul --
I could have said just let the money go,
Or let it go until you get the money.
I let that chance for beauty slip. Even now
I see poor Elenor Murray at the door,
Who paused, no doubt, in hope that I would say
What I thought not to say.

So, Ludwig Haibt,
We are a poor lot -- let us have some tea!
"We are a poor lot," Ludwig Haibt replied.
"But since this is confessional, I absolve you,
If you'll permit me, from your sin. Will you
Absolve me, if I say I'm sorry too?
I'll tell you something, it is really true: --
I changed my system more I think because
Of what I learned from teaching Elenor Murray
Than on account of any other person.
She demonstrated better where my system
Was lacking than all pupils that I had.
And so I changed it; and of course I say
The thing is music, just as poets say
The thing is beauty, not the rhyme and words,
With which they bring it, instruments that's all,
And not the thing -- but beauty."

So they talked,
Forgave each other. And that very day
Two priests were talking of confessionals
A mile or so from the Tower, where Lilli Alm
And Ludwig Haibt were having tea. You say
The coroner was ignorant of this!
What is the part it plays with Elenor Murray?
Or with the inquest? Wait a little yet
And see if Merival has told to him
What thing of value touching Elenor Murray
Is lodged in Father Whimsett's heart or words.





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