Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: THE GOVERNOR, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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DOMESDAY BOOK: THE GOVERNOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I'm home at last. How long were you asleep?
Last Line: To coroner merival on the street one day:
Subject(s): Law & Lawyers; Life; Politics & Government; Attorneys

I'm home at last. How long were you asleep?
I startled you. The time? It's midnight past.
Put on your slippers and your robe, my dear,
And make some coffee for me -- what a night!
Yes, tell you? I shall tell you everything.
I must tell someone, and a wife should know
The workings of a governor's mind -- no one
Could guess what turned the scale to save this man
Who would have died to-morrow, but for me.
That's fine. This coffee helps me. As I said
This night has been a trial. Well, you know
I told these lawyers they could come at eight,
And so they came. A seasoned lawyer one,
The other young and radical, both full
Of sentiment of some sort. And there you sit,
And do not say a word of disapproval.
You smile, which means you sun yourself within
The power I have, and yet do you approve?
This man committed brutal murder, did
A nameless horror; now he's saved from death.
The father and the mother of the girl,
The neighborhood, perhaps, in which she lived
Will roar against me, think that I was bought,
Or used by someone I'm indebted to
In politics. Oh no! It's really funny,
Since it is simpler than such things as these.
And no one, saving you, shall know the secret.
For there I sat and didn't say a word
To indicate, betray my thought; not when
The thing came out that moved me. Let them read
The doctor's affidavits, that this man
Was crazy when he killed the girl, and read
The transcript of the evidence on the trial.
They read and talked. At last the younger lawyer,
For sometime still, kept silent by the other,
Pops out with something, reads an affidavit,
As foreign to the matter as a story
Of melodrama color on the screen,
Which still contained a sentence that went home;
I felt my mind turn like a turn-table,
And click as when the switchman kicks the tongue
Of steel into the slot that holds the table.

And from my mind the engine, that's the problem,
Puffed, puffed and moved away, out on the track,
And disappeared upon its business. How
Is that for metaphor? Your coffee, dear,
Stirs up my fancy. But to tell the rest,
If my face changed expression, or my eye
Betrayed my thought, then I have no control
Of outward seeming. For they argued on
An hour or so thereafter. And I asked
Re-reading of the transcript where this man
Told of his maniac passion, of the night
He killed the girl, the doctors' testimony
I had re-read, and let these lawyers think
My interest centered there, and my decision
Was based upon such matters, and at last
The penalty commuted. When in truth
I tell you I had let the fellow hang
For all of this, except that I took fire
Because of something in this affidavit
Irrelevant to the issue, reaching me
In something only relevant to me.
O, well, all life is such. Our great decisions
Flame out of sparks, where roaring fires before,
Not touching our combustibles wholly failed
To flame or light us.

Now the secret hear.
Do you remember all the books I read
Two years ago upon heredity,
Foot-notes to evolution, the dynamics
Of living matter? Well, it wasn't that
That made me save this fellow. There you smile
For knowing how and when I got these books,
Who woke my interest in them. Never mind,
You don't know yet my reasons.

But I'll tell you:
And let you see a governor's mind at work.
When this young lawyer in this affidavit
Read to a certain place my mind strayed off
And lived a time past, you were present too.
It was that morning when I passed my crisis,
Had just dodged death, could scarcely speak, too weak
To lift a hand to feed myself, but needed
Vital replenishment of strength, and then
I got it in a bowl of oyster soup,
Rich cream at that. And as I live, my dear,
As this young lawyer read, I felt myself
In bed as I lay then, re-lived the weakness,
Could see the spoon that carried to my mouth
The appetizing soup, imagined there
The feelings I had then of getting fingers
Upon the rail of life again, how faint,
But with such clear degrees. Could see the hand
That held the spoon, the eyes that looked at me
In triumph for the victory of my strength,
Which battled, almost lost the prize of life.
It all came over me when this lawyer read:
Elenor Murray lately come from France
Found dead beside the river, was the cousin
Of this Fred Taylor, and had planned to come
To see the governor, death prevented her --
Suppose it had?

That affidavit, doubtless
Was read to me to move me for the fact
This man was kindred to a woman who
Served in the war, this lawyer was that cheap!
And isn't it as cheap to think that I
Could be persuaded by the circumstance
That Elenor Murray, she who nursed me once,
Was cousin to this fellow, if this lawyer
Knew this, and did he know it? I don't know.
Had Elenor Murray lived she would have come
To ask her cousin's life -- I know her heart.
And at the last, I think this was the thing:
I thought I'd do exactly what I'd do
If she had lived and asked me, disregard
Her death, and act as if she lived, repay
Her dead hands, which in life had saved my life.

Now, dear, your eyes have tears -- I know -- believe me,
I had no romance with this Elenor Murray.
Good Lord, it's one o'clock, I must to bed. . . .

You get my story Merival? Do you think,
A softness in the heart went to the brain
And softened that? Well now I stress two things:
I can't endure defeat, nor bear to see
An ardent spirit thwarted. What I've achieved
Has been through will that would not bend, and so
To see that in another wins my love,
And my support. Now take this Elenor Murray
She had a will like mine, she worked her way
As I have done. And just to hear that she
Had planned to see me, ask for clemency
For this condemned degenerate, made me say
Shall I let death defeat her? Take the breach
And make her death no matter in my course?
For as I live if she had come to me
I had done that I did. And why was that?
No romance! Never that! Yet human love
As friend can keep for friend in this our life
I felt for Elenor Murray -- and for this:
It was her will that would not take defeat,
Devotion to her work, and in my case
This depth of friendship welling in her heart
For human beings, that I shared in -- there
Gave tireless healing to her nursing hands
And saved my life. And for a life a life.
This criminal will live some years, we'll say,
Were better dead. All right. He'll cost the state
Say twenty thousand dollars. What is that
Contrasted with the cost to me, if I
Had let him hang? There is a bank account,
Economies in the realm of thought to watch.
And don't you think the souls -- let's call them souls --
Of these avenging, law abiding folk,
These souls of the community all in all
Will be improved for hearing that I did
A human thing, and profit more therefrom
Than though that sense of balance in their souls
Struck for the thought of crime avenged, the law
Fulfilled and vindicated? Yes, it's true.
And Merival spoke up and said: "It's true,
I understand your story, and I'm glad.
It's like you and I'll tell my jury first,
And they will scatter it, what moved in you
And how this Elenor Murray saved a life."

The talk of waste in human life was constant
As Coroner Merival took evidence
At Elenor Murray's inquest. Everyone
Could think of waste in some one's life as well
As in his own.
John Scofield knew the girl,
Had worked for Arthur Fouche, her grandfather,
And knew what course his life took, how his fortune
Was wasted, dwindled down.

A talk he heard between this Elenor Murray
And Arthur Fouche, her grandfather, he spoke
To Coroner Merival on the street one day:

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