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



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DOMESDAY BOOK: MRS. MURRAY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I think, she said at first / my daughter did not kill herself. I'm sure
Last Line: And talk about the case.
Subject(s): Daughters; Family Life; Life; Marriage; Suicide; Relatives; Weddings; Husbands; Wives


I think, she said at first,
My daughter did not kill herself. I'm sure
Someone did violence to her, your tests,
Examination will prove violence.
It would be like her fate to meet with such:
Poor child, unfortunate from birth, at least
Unfortunate in fortune, peace and joy.
Or else if she met with no violence,
Some sudden crisis of her woman's heart
Came on her by the river, the result
Of strains and labors in the war in France.
I'll tell you why I say this: First I knew
She had come near me from New York, there came
A letter from her, saying she had come
To visit with her aunt there near LeRoy,
And rest and get the country air. She said
To keep it secret, not to tell her father;
That she was in no frame of mind to come
And be with us, and see her father, see
Our life, which is the same as it was when
She was a child and after. But she said
To come to her. And so the day before
They found her by the river I went over
And saw her for the day. She seemed most gay,
Gave me the presents which she brought from France,
Told me of many things, but rather more
By way of half told things than something told
Continuously, you know. She had grown fairer,
She had a majesty of countenance,
A luminous glory shone about her face,
Her voice was softer, eyes looked tenderer.
She held my hands so lovingly when we met.
She kissed me with such silent, speaking love.
But then she laughed and told me funny stories.
She seemed all hope, and said she'd rest awhile
Before she made a plan for life again.
And when we parted, she said: "Mother, think
What trip you'd like to take. I've saved some money,
And you must have a trip, a rest, construct
Yourself anew for life." So, as I said,
She came to death by violence, or else
She had some weakness that she hid from me
Which came upon her quickly.

For the rest,
Suppose I told you all my life, and told
What was my waste in life and what in hers,
How I have lived, and how poor Elenor
Was raised or half-raised -- what's the good of that?
Are not there rooms of books, of tales and poems
And histories to show all secrets of life?
Does anyone live now, or learn a thing
Not lived and learned a thousand times before?
The trouble is these secrets are locked up
In books and might as well be locked in graves,
Since they mean nothing till you live yourself.
And I suppose the race will live and suffer
As long as leaves put forth in spring, live over
The very sorrows, horrors that we live.
Wisdom is here, but how to learn that wisdom,
And use it while life's worth the living, that's
The thing to be desired. But let it go.
If any soul can profit by my life,
Or by my Elenor's, I trust he may,
And help him to it.

Coroner Merival,
Even the children in this neighborhood
Know something of my husband and of me,
Our struggle and unhappiness, even the children
Hear Alma Bell's name mentioned with a look.
And if you went about here to inquire
About my Elenor, you'd find them saying
She was a wonder girl, or this or that.
But then you'd feel a closing up of speech,
As if a door closed softly, just a way
To indicate that something else was there,
Somewhere in the person's room of thoughts.
This is the truth, since I was told a man
Came here to ask about her, when she asked
To serve in France, the matter of Alma Bell
Traced down and probed.

It being true, therefore,
That you and all the rest know of my life,
Our life at home, it matters nothing then
That I go on and tell you what I think
Made sorrow for us, what our waste was, tell you
How the yarn knotted as we took the skein
And wound it to a ball, and made the ball
So hardly knotted that the yarn held fast
Would not unwind for knitting.

Well, you know
My father Arthur Fouche, my mother too.
They reared me with the greatest care. You know
They sent me to St. Mary's, where I learned
Fine things, to be a lady -- learned to dance,
To play on the piano, sing a little;
Learned French, Italian, learned to know good books,
The beauty of a poem or a tale;
Learned elegance of manners, how to walk,
Stand, breathe, keep well, be radiant and strong,
And so in all to make life beautiful,
Become the helpful wife of some strong man,
The mother of fine children. Well, at school
We girls were guarded from the men, and so
We went to town surrounded by our teachers,
And only saw the boys when some girl's brother
Came to the school to visit, perhaps a girl
Consent had of her parents to receive
A beau sometimes. But then I had no beau;
And had I had my father would have kept him
Away from me at school.

For truth to tell
When I had finished school, came back to home
They kept the men away, there was no man
Quite good enough to call. Now here begins
My fate, as you will see; their very care
To make me what they wished, to have my life
Grow safely, prosperously, was my undoing.
I had a sister named Corinne who suffered
Because of that; my father guarded me
Against all strolling lovers, unknown men.
But here was Henry Murray, whom they knew,
And trusted too; and though they never dreamed
I'd marry him, they trusted him to call.
He seemed a quiet, diligent young man,
Aspiring in the world. And so they thought
They'd solve my loneliness and restless spirits
By opening the door to him. My fate!
They let him call upon me twice a month.
He was in love with me before this started,
That's why he tried to call. But as for me,
He was a man, that's all, a being only
In the world to talk to, help my loneliness.
I had no love for him, no more than I
Had love for father's tenant on the farm.
And what I knew of marriage, what it means
Was what a child knows. If you'll credit me
I thought a man and woman slept together,
Lay side by side, and somehow, I don't know,
That children came.

But then I was so vital,
Rebellious, hungering for freedom, that
No chance was too indifferent to put by
What offered freedom from the prison home,
The watchfulness of father and of mother,
The rigor of my discipline. And in truth
No other man came by, no prospect showed
Of going on a visit, finding life
Some other place. And so it came about,
After I knew this man two months, one night
I made a rope of sheets, down from my window
Descended to his arms, eloped in short,
And married Henry Murray, and found out
What marriage is, believe me. Well, I think
The time will come when marriage will be known
Before the parties tie themselves for life.
How do you know a man, or know a woman
Until the flesh instructs you? Do you know
A man until you see him face to face?
Or know what texture is his hand until
You touch his hand? Well, lastly no one knows
Whether a man is mate for you before
You mate with him. I hope to see the day
When men and women, to try out their souls
Will live together, learning A. B. C.'s
Of life before they write their fates for life.

Our story started then. To state their rage
My father and my mother cut me off,
And so we had bread problems from the first.
He made but little clerking in the store,
Besides his mind was on the law and books.
These were the early tangles of our yarn.
And I grew worried as the children came,
Two sons at first, and I was far from well,
One died at five years, and I almost died
For grief at this. But down below all things,
Far down below all tune or scheme of sound,
Where no rests were, but only ceaseless dirge,
Was my heart's de profundis, crying out
My thirst for love, not thirst for his, but thirst
For love that quenched it. But the only water
That passed my lips was desert water, poisoned
By arsenic from his rocks. My soul grew bitter,
Then sweetened under the cross, grew bitter again.
My life lay raving on the desert sands.
To speak more plainly, sleep deserted me.
I could not sleep for thought, and for a will
That could not bend, but hoped that death or something
Would take him from me, bring me love before
My face was withered, as it is to-day.
At last the doctor found me growing mad
For lack of sleep. Why was I so, he asked.
You must give up this psychic work and quit
This psychic writing, let the spirits go.
Well, it was true that years before I found
I heard and saw with higher power, received
Deep messages from spirits, from my boy
Who passed away. And as to this, who knows? --
Surely no doctor -- of this psychic power.
You may be called neurotic, what is that?
Perhaps it is the soul become so fine
It leaves the body, or shakes down the body
With energy too subtle for the body.
But I was sleepless for these years, at last
The secret lost of sleep, for seven days
And seven nights could find no sleep, until
I lay upon the lawn and pushed my head,
As a dog does around, around, around.
There was a devil in me, at one with me,
And neither to be put out, nor yet subdued
By help outside, and nothing to be done
Except to find escape by knife, or pistol,
And thus get sleep. Escape! Oh, that's the word!
There's something in the soul that says escape!
Fly, fly from something, and in truth, my friend,
Life's restlessness, however healthful it be,
Is motived by this urge to fly, escape:
Well, to go on, they gave me everything,
At last they gave me chloral, but no sleep!
And finally I closed my eyes and quick
The secret came to me, as one might find,
After forgetting how, to swim, or walk,
After a sickness, and for just two minutes
I slept, and then I got the secret back,
And later slept.

So I possessed myself.
But for these years sleep but two hours or so.
Why do I wake? The spirits let me sleep.
Oh, no it is my longing that will rest not,
These thoughts of him that rest not, and this love
That never has been satisfied, this heart
So empty all these years; the bitterness
Of living face to face with one you loathe,
Yet pity, while you hate yourself for feeling
Such bitterness toward another soul,
As wretched as your own. But then as well
I could not sleep for Elenor, for her fate,
Never to have a chance in life. I saw
Our poverty made surer; year by year
Slip by with chances slipping.

Oh, that child!
When I first felt her lips that sucked my breasts
My heart went muffled like a bird that tries
To pour its whole song in one note and fails
Out of its very ecstasy. A daughter,
A little daughter at my breast, a soul
Of a woman to be! I knew her spirit then,
Felt all my love and longing in her lips,
Felt all my passion, purity of desire
In those sweet lips that sucked my breasts. Oh, rapture,
Oh highest rapture God had given me
To see her roll upon my arm and smile,
Full fed, the milk that gurgled from her lips!
Such blue eyes -- oh, my child! My child! my child!
I have no hope now of this life -- no hope
Except to take you to my breast again.
God will be good and give you to me, or
God will bring sleep to me, a sleep so still
I shall not miss you, Elenor.

I go on.
I see her when she first began to walk.
She ran at first, just like a baby quail.
She never walked. She danced into this life.
She used to dance for minutes on her toes.
My starved heart bore her vital in some way.
My hope which would not die had made her gay,
And unafraid and venturesome and hopeful.
She did not know what sadness was, or fear,
Or anything but laughter, play and fun.
Not till she grew to ten years and could see
The place in life that God had given her
Between my life and his; and then I saw
A thoughtfulness come over her, as a cloud
Passes across the sun, and makes one place
A shadow while the landscape lies in light:
So quietness would come over her, with smiles
Around her quietness and sunniest laughter
Fast following on her quietness.

Well, you know
She went to school here as the others did.
But who knew that I grieved to see her lose
A schooling at St. Mary's, have no chance?
No chance save what she earned herself? What girl
Has earned the money for two years in college
Beside my Elenor in this neighborhood?
There is not one! But then if books and schooling
Be things prerequisite for success in life,
Why should we have a social scheme that clings
To marriage and the home, when such a soul
Is turned into the world from such a home,
With schooling so inadequate? If the state
May take our sons and daughters for its use
In war, in peace, why let the state raise up
And school these sons and daughters, let the home
Go to full ruin from half ruin now,
And let us who have failed in choosing mates
Re-choose, without that fear of children's fate
Which haunts us now.

For look at Elenor!
Why did she never marry? Any man
Had made his life rich had he married her.
But in this present scheme of things such women
Move in a life where men are mostly less
In mind and heart than they are -- and the men
Who are their equals never come to them,
Or come to them too seldom, or if they come
Are blind and do not know these Elenors.
And she had character enough to live
In single life, refuse the lesser chance,
Since she found not the great one, as I think.
But let it pass -- I'm sure she was beloved,
And more than once, I'm sure. But I am sure
She was too wise for errors crude and common.
And if she had a love that stopped her heart,
She knew beforehand all, and met her fate
Bravely, and wrote that "To be brave and not
To flinch," to keep before her soul her faith
Deep down within it, lest she might forget it
Among her crowded thoughts.

She went to the war.
She came to see me before she went, and said
She owed her courage and her restless spirit
To me, her will to live, her love of life,
Her power to sacrifice and serve, to me.
She put her arms about my neck and kissed me,
Said I had been a mother to her, being
A mother if no more; wished she had brought
More happiness to me, material things,
Delight in life.

Of course her work took strength.
Her life was sapped by service in the war,
She died for country, for America,
As much as any soldier. So I say
If her life came to any waste, what waste
May her heroic life and death prevent?
The world has spent two hundred billion dollars
To put an egotist and strutting despot
Out of the power he used to tyrannize
Over his people with a tyranny
Political in chief, to take away
The glittering dominion of a crown.
I want some good to us out of this war,
And some emancipation. Let me tell you:
I know a worse thing than a German king:
It is the social scourge of poverty,
Which cripples, slays the husband and the wife,
And sends the children forth in life half formed.
I know a tyranny more insidious
Than any William had, it is the tyranny
Of superstition, customs, laws and rules;
The tyranny of the church, the tyranny
Of marriage, and the tyranny of beliefs
Concerning right and wrong, of good and evil;
The tyranny of taboos, the despotism
That rules our spirits with commands and threats:
Ghosts of dead faiths and creeds, ghosts of the past.
The tyranny, in short, that starves and chains
Imprisons, scourges, crucifies the soul,
Which only asks the chance to live and love,
Freely as it wishes, which will live so
If you take Poverty and chuck him out.
Then make the main thing inner growth, take rules,
Conventions and religion (save it be
The worship of God in spirit without hands
And without temples sacraments) the babble
Of moralists, the rant and flummery
Of preachers and of priests, and chuck them out.
These things produce your waste and suffering.
You tell a soul it sins and make it suffer,
Spend years in impotence and twilight thought.
You punish where no punishment should be,
Weaken and break the soul. You weight the soul
With idols and with symbols meaningless,
When God gave but three things: the earth and air
And mind to know them, live in freedom by them.
Well, I would have America become
As free as any soul has ever dreamed her,
And if America does not get strength
To free herself, now that the war is over,
Then Elenor Murray's spirit has not won
The thing she died for.

So I go my way,
Back to get supper, I who live, shall die
In America as it is -- Rise up and change it
For mothers of the future Elenors.

By now the press was full of Elenor Murray.
And far and near, wherever she was known,
Had lived, or taught, or studied, tongues were loosed
In episodes or stories of the girl.
The coroner on the street was button-holed,
Received marked articles and letters, some
Anonymous, some crazy. David Borrow
Who helped this Alma Bell as lawyer, friend,
Found in his mail a note from Alma Bell,
Enclosed with one much longer, written for
The coroner to read.

When Merival
Had read it, then he said to Borrow: "Read
This letter to the other jurors." So
He read it to them, as they sat one night,
Invited to the home of Merival
To drink a little wine and have a smoke,
And talk about the case.





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