Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: REV. PERCY FERGUSON, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: REV. PERCY FERGUSON, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The rev. Percy ferguson, patrician / vicar of christ, companion of the strong
Last Line: The coroner and jury sat and heard: --
Subject(s): Clergy; Death; Grief; Life; Love; Priests; Rabbis; Ministers; Bishops; Dead, The; Sorrow; Sadness


The Rev. Percy Ferguson, patrician
Vicar of Christ, companion of the strong,
And member of the inner shrine, where men
Observe the rituals of the golden calf;
A dilettante, and writer for the press
Upon such themes as optimism, order,
Obedience, beauty, law, while Elenor Murray's
Life was being weighed by Merival
Preached in disparagement of Merival
Upon a fatal Sunday, as it chanced,
Too near to doom's day for the clergyman.
For, as the word had gone about that waste
In lives preoccupied this Merival,
And many talked of waste, and spoke a life
Where waste had been in whole or part -- the pulpit
Should take a hand, thought Ferguson. And so
The Reverend Percy Ferguson preached thus
To a great audience and fashionable:
"The hour's need is a firmer faith in Christ,
A closer hold on God, belief again
In sin's reality; the age's vice
Is laughter over sin, the attitude
That sin is not!" And then to prove that sin
Is something real, he spoke of money sins
That bring the money panics, of the beauty
That lust corrupts, wound up with Athen's story,
Which sin decayed. And touching on this waste,
Which was the current talk, what is this waste
Except a sin in life, the moral law
Transgressed, God mocked, the order of man's life,
And God's will disobeyed? Show me a life
That lives through Christ and none shall find a waste."
This clergyman some fifteen years before
Went on a hunt for Alma Bell, who taught
The art department of the school, and found
Enough to scare the school directors that
She burned with lawless love for Elenor Murray.

And made it seem the teacher's reprimand
In school of Elenor Murray for her ways
Of strolling, riding with young men at night,
Was moved by jealousy of Elenor Murray,
Being herself in love with Elenor Murray.
This clergyman laid what he found before
The school directors, Alma Bell was sent
Out of the school her way, and disappeared. . . .
But now, though fifteen years had passed, the story
Of Alma Bell and Elenor Murray crept
Like poisonous mist, scarce seen, around LeRoy.
It had been so always. And all these years
No one would touch or talk in open words
The loathsome matter, since girls grown to women,
And married in the town might have their names
Relinked to Alma Bell's. And was it true
That Elenor Murray strayed as a young girl
In those far days of strolls and buggy rides?

But after Percy Ferguson had thundered
Against the inquest, Warren Henderson,
A banker of the city, who had dealt
In paper of the clergyman, and knew
The clergyman had interests near Victoria,
Was playing at the money game, and knew
He tottered on the brink, and held to hands
That feared to hold him longer -- Henderson,
A wise man, cynical, contemptuous
Of frocks so sure of ways to avoid the waste,
So unforgiving of the tangled moods
And baffled eyes of men; contemptuous
Of frocks so avid for the downy beds,
Place, honors, money, admiration, praise,
Much wished to see the clergyman come down
And lay his life beside the other sinners.
But more he knew, admired this Alma Bell,
Did not believe she burned with guilty love
For Elenor Murray, thought the moral hunt
Or Alma Bell had made a waste of life,
As ignorance might pluck a flower for thinking
It was a weed; on Elenor Murray too
Had brought a waste, by scenting up her life
With something faint but ineradicable.
And Warren Henderson would have revenge,
And waited till old Jacob Bangs should fix
His name to paper once again of Ferguson's
To tell old Jacob Bangs he should be wary,
Since banks and agencies were tremulous
With hints of failure at Victoria.

So meeting Jacob Bangs the banker told him
What things were bruited, and warned the man
To fix his name no more to Ferguson's paper.
It was the very day the cleryman
Sought Jacob Bangs to get his signature
Upon a note for money at the bank.
And Jacob Bangs was silent and evasive,
Demurred a little and refused at last.
Which sent the anxious clergyman adrift
To look for other help. He looked and looked,
And found no other help. Associates
Depending more on men than God, fell down,
And in a day the bubble burst. The Times
Had columns of the story.

In a week,
At Sunday service Percy Ferguson
Stood in the pulpit to confess his sin,
The Murray jury sat and fed their joy
For hearing Ferguson confess his sin.
This is the way he did it:

"First, my friends,
I do not say I have betrayed the trust
My friends have given me. Some years ago
I thought to make provision for my wife,
I wished to start some certain young men right.
I had another plan I can't disclose,
Not selfish, you'll believe me. So I took
My savings made as lecturer and writer
And put them in this venture. I'm ashamed
To say how great those savings were, in view
Of what the poor earn, those who work with hands!
Ashamed too, when I think these savings grew
Because I spoke the things the rich desired.
And squared my words with what the strong would have --
Therein Christ was betrayed. The end has come.
I too have been betrayed, my confidence
Wronged by my fellows in the enterprise.
I hope to pay my debts. Hard poverty
Has come to me to bring me back to Christ."

"But listen now: These years I lived perturbed,
Lest this life which I grew into would mould
Young men and ministers, lead them astray
To public life, sensation, lecture platforms,
Prosperity, away from Christ-like service,
Obscure and gentle. To those souls I owe
My heart's confession: I have loved my books
More than the poor, position more than service,
Office and honor over love of men;
Lived thus when all my strength belonged to thought,
To work for schools, the sick, the poor, the friendless,
To boys and girls with hungry minds. My friends,
Here I abase my soul before God's throne,
And ask forgiveness for the pious zeal
With which I smote the soul of Alma Bell,
And smudged the robe of Elenor Murray. God,
Thou, who has taken Elenor Murray home,
After great service in the war, O grant
Thy servant yet to kneel before the soul
Of Elenor Murray. For who am I to judge?
What was I then to judge? who coveted honors,
When solitude, where I might dwell apart,
And listen to the voice of God was mine,
By calling and for seeking. I have broken
The oath I took to take no purse or scrip.
I have loved money, even while I knew
No servant of Christ can work for Christ and strive
For money. And if anywhere there be
A noble boy who would become a minister,
Who has heard me, or read my books, and grown
Thereby to cherish secular ideas
Of Christ's work in the world, to him I say:
Repent the thought, reject me; there are men
And women missionaries, here, abroad,
And nameless workers in poor settlements
Whose latchets to stoop down and to unloose
I am unworthy."

"Gift of life too short!
O, beautiful gift of God, too brief at best,
For all a man can do, how have I wasted
This precious gift! How wasted it in pride,
In seeking out the powerful, the great,
The hands with honors, gold to give -- when nothing
Is profitable to a servant of the Christ
Except to shepherd Christ's poor. O, young men,
Interpret not your ministry in terms
Of intellect alone, forefront the heart,
That at the end of life you may look up
And say to God: Behind these are the sheep
Thou gavest me, and not a one is lost."

"As to my enemies, for enemies
A clergyman must have whose fault is mine,
Plato would have us harden hearts to sorrow.
And Zeno roofs of slate for souls to slide
The storm of evil -- Christ in sorrow did
For evil good. For me, my prayer is this,
My faith as well, that I may be perfected
Through suffering."

That ended the confession.
Then "Love Divine, All Love Excelling" sounded.
The congregation rose, and some went up
To take the pastor's hand, but others left
To think the matter over.

For some said:
"He married fortunate." And others said:
"We know through Jacob Bangs he has investments
In wheat lands, what's the truth? In any case
What avarice is this that made him anxious
About the comfort of his wife and family?
The thing won't work. He's only middle way
In solving his soul's problem. This confession
Is just a poor beginning." Others said:
"He drove out Alma Bell, let's drive him out."
And others said: "you note we never heard
About this speculation till it failed,
And he was brought to grief. If it had prospered
The man had never told, what do you think?"
But in a year as health failed, Ferguson
Took leave of absence, and the silence of life
Which closes over men, however noisy
With sermons, lectures, covered him. His riffle
Died out in distant waters.

There was a Doctor Burke lived at LeRoy,
Neurologist and student. On a night
When Merival had the jury at his house,
Llewellyn George was telling of his travels
In China and Japan, had mutual friends
With Franklin Hollister, the cousin of Elenor,
And son of dead Corinne, who hid her letters
Under the eaves. The talk went wide and far.
For David Borrow, sunny pessimist,
Thrust logic words at Maiworm, the juryman;
And said our life was bad, and must be so,
While Maiworm trusted God, said life was good.
And Winthrop Marion let play his wit,
The riches of his reading over all.
Thus as they talked this Doctor Burke came in.
"You'll pardon this intrusion, I'll go on
If this is secret business. Let me say
This inquest holds my interest and I've come
To tell of Elenor's ancestry." Thus he spoke.
"There'll be another time if I must go."
And Merival spoke up and said: "why stay
And tell us what you know, or think," and so
The coroner and jury sat and heard: --





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