Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Why don't they come to me to find the cause
Last Line: She talks with susan hamilton like this:
Subject(s): Death; Letters; Nations; War; Dead, The


Why don't they come to me to find the cause
Of Elenor Murray's death? The house is first;
That is the world, and Jack is God, you know;
The malt is linen, purple, wine and food,
The rats that get the malt are nobles, lords,
Those who had feudal dues and hunting rights,
And privileges, first nights, all the rest.
The cats are your Voltaires, Rousseaus; the dogs,
Your jailers, Louis, Fredericks and such.
And O, you blessed cow, you common people,
Whom maidens all forlorn attend and milk.
Here is your Elenor Murray who gives hands,
Brain, heart and spirit to the task of milking,
And straining milk that other lips may drink,
Revive and flourish, wedding, if she weds,
The tattered man in church, which is your priest
Shaven and shorn, and wakened with the sun
By the cock, theology that keeps the house
Well timed and ruled for honor unto Jack,
Who must have order, rising on the hour,
And ceremony for his house.

If rats
Had never lived, or left the malt alone,
This girl had lived. Let's trace the story down:
We went to France to fight, we go to France
To get the origin of Elenor's death.
It's 1750, say, the malt of France
And Europe, too, is over-run by rats;
The nobles and the clergy own the land,
Exact the taxes, drink the luscious milk
Of the crumpled horns. But cats come slinking by
Called Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau. Now look!
Cat Diderot goes after war and taxes,
The slave trade, privilege, the merchant stomach.
In England, too, there is a sly grimalkin,
Who poisons rats with most malicious thoughts,
And bears the name of Adam -- Adam Smith,
By Jack named Adam just to signify
His sinful nature. But the cat Voltaire
Says Adam never fell, that man is good,
An honest merchant better than a king,
And shaven priests are worse than parasites.
He rubs his glossy coat against the legs
Of Quakers, loving natures, loathes the trade
Of war, and runs with velvet feet across
The whole of Europe, scaring rats to death.
The cat Rousseau is instinct like a cat,
And purrs that man born free is still in chains
Here in this house that Jack built. Consequence?
There is such squeaking, running of the rats,
The cats in North America wake up
And drive the English rats out; then the dogs
Grow cautious of the cats, poor simple Louis
Convokes a French assembly to preserve
The malt against the rats and give the cow
Whose milk is growing blue and thin some malt.
And all at once rats, cats and dogs, the cow,
The shaven priest, the maiden all forlorn,
The tattered man, the cock, are in a hubbub
Of squeaking, caterwauling, barking, lowing,
With cock-a-doodles, curses, prayers and shrieks
Ascending from the melee. In a word,
You have a revolution.

All at once
A mastiff dog appears and barks: "Be still."
And in a way in France's room in the house
Brings order for a time. He grabs the fabric
Of the Holy Roman Empire, tears it up,
Sends for the shaven priest from Rome and bites
His shrunken calves; trots off to Jena where
He whips the Prussian dogs, but wakes them too
To breed and multiply, grow strong to fight
All other dogs in Jack's house, bite to death
The maidens all forlorn, like Elenor Murray.

This mastiff, otherwise Napoleon called,
Is downed at last by dogs from everywhere.
They're rid of him -- but still the house of Jack
Is better than it was, the rats are thick,
But cats grow more abundant, malt is served
More generously to the cow. The Prussian dogs
Discover malt's the thing, also the cow
Must have her malt, or else the milk gives out.
but all the while the Prussian dogs grow strong,
Well taught and angered by Napoleon.
And some of them would set the house in order
After the manner of America.
But many wish to fight, get larger rooms,
Then set the whole in order. At Sadowa
They whip the Austrian dogs, and once again
A mastiff comes, a Bismarck, builds a suite
From north to south, and forces Austria
To huddle in the kitchen, use the outhouse
Where Huns and Magyars, Bulgars and the rest
Keep Babel under Jack who split their tongues
To make them hate each other and suspect,
Not understanding what the other says.
This very Babel was the cause of death
Of Elenor Murray, if I chose to stop
And go no further with the story.

Next
Our mastiff Bismarck thinks of Luneville,
And would avenge it, grabs the throat of France,
And downs her; at Versailles growls and carries
An emperor of Germany to the throne.
Then pants and wags his tail, and little dreams
A dachshund in an early day to come
Will drive him from the kennel and the bone
He loves to crunch and suck.

This dachshund is
In one foot crippled, rabies from his sires
Lies dormant in him, in a day of heat
Froth from his mouth will break, his eyes will roll
Like buttons made of pearl with glints of green.
Already he feels envy of the dogs
Who wear brass collars, bay the moon of Jack,
And roam at will about the house of Jack,
The English, plainer said. This envy takes
The form of zeal for country, so he trots
About the house, gets secrets for reforms
For Germany, would have his lesser dogs
All merchants, traders sleek and prosperous,
Achieve a noble breed to rule the house.
And so he puts his rooms in order, while
The other dogs look on with much concern
And growing fear.

The business of the house
In every room is over malt; the cow
Must be well fed for milk. And if you have
No feudal dues, outlandish taxes, still
The game of old goes on, has only changed
Its dominant form. Grimalkin, Adam Smith
Spied all the rats, and all the tricks of rats,
Saw in his day the rats crawl hawser ropes
And get on ships, embark for Indias,
And get the malt; and now the merchant ships
For China bound, for Africa, for the Isles
Of farthest seas take rats, who slip aboard
And eat their fill before the patient cow,
Milked daily as before can lick her tongue
Against a mouthful of the precious stuff.
You have your eastern question, and your Congo.
France wants Morocco, gives to Germany
Possessions in the Congo for Morocco.
The dogs jump into China, even we
Take part and put the Boxers down, lay hands
Upon the Philippines, and Egypt falls
To England, all are building battle ships.
The dachshund barking he is crowded out,
Encircled, as he says, builds up the army,
And patriot cocks are crowing everywhere,
Until the house of Jack with snarls and growls,
The fuff, fuff, fuff of cats seems on the eve
Of pandemonium. The Germans think
The Slavs want Europe, and the Slavs are sure
The Germans want it, and it's all for malt.
Meantime the Balkan Babel leads to war.
The Slavic peoples do not like the rule
Of Austro-Hungary, but the latter found
No way except to rule the Slavs and rule
Southeastern Europe, being crowded out
By mastiff Bismarck. And again there's Jack
Who made confusion of the Balkan tongues.
And so the house awaits events that look
As if Jack willed them, anyway a thing
That may be put on Jack. It comes at last.
All have been armed for malt. A crazy man
Has armed himself and shoots a king to be,
The Archduke Francis, on the Serbian soil,
Then Austria moves on Serbia, Russia moves
To succor Serbia, France is pledged to help
The Russians, but our dachshund has a bond
With Austria and rushes to her aid.
Then England must protect the channel, yes,
France must be saved -- and here you have your war.

And now for Elenor Murray. Top of brain
Where ideals float like clouds, we owed to France
A debt, but had we paid it, if the dog,
The dachshund, mad at last, had left our ships
To freedom of the seas? Say what you will,
This England is the smartest thing in time,
Can never fall, be conquered while she keeps
That mind of hers, those eyes that see all things,
Spies or no spies, knows every secret hatched
In every corner of the house of Jack.
And with one language spoken by more souls
Than any tongue, leads minds by written words;
Writes treaties, compacts which forstall the sword,
And makes it futile when it's drawn against her. . . .
You cuff your enemy at school or make
A naso-digital gesture, coming home
You fear your enemy, so walk beside
The gentle teacher; if your enemy
Throws clods at you, he hits the teacher. Well,
'Twas wise to hide munitions back of skirts,
And frocks of little children, most unwise
For Dachshund William to destroy the skirts
And frocks to sink munitions, since the wearers
Happened to be Americans. William fell
Jumping about his room and spilled the clock,
Raked off the mantel; broke his billikens,
His images of Jack by doing this.
For, seeing this, we rise; ten million youths
Take guns for war, and many Elenor Murrays
Swept out of placid places by the ripples
Cross seas to serve.

This girl was French in part,
In spirit was American. Look back
Do you not see Voltaire lay hold of her,
Hands out of tombs and spirits, from the skies
Lead her to Europe? Trace the causes back
To Adam, or the dwellers of the lakes,
It is enough to see the souls that stirred
The Revolution of the French which drove
The ancient evils from the house of Jack.
It is enough to hope that from this war
The vestiges of feudal wrongs shall lie
In Jack's great dust-pan, swept therein and thrown
In garbage cans by maidens all forlorn,
The Fates we'll call them now, lame goddesses,
Hags halt, far sighted, seeing distant things,
Near things but poorly -- this is much to hope!
But if we get a freedom that is free
For Elenor Murrays, maidens all forlorn,
And tattered men, and so prevent the wars,
Already budding in this pact of peace,
This war is good, and Elenor Murray's life
Not waste, but gain.

Now for a final mood,
As it were second sight. I open the door,
Walk from the house of Jack, look at the roof,
The chimneys, over them see depths of blue.
Jack's house becomes a little ark that sails,
Tosses and bobbles in an infinite sea.
And all events of evil, war and strife,
The pain and folly, test of this and that,
The groping from one thing to something else,
Old systems turned to new, old eras dead,
New eras rising, these are ripples all
Moving from some place in the eternal sea
Where Jack is throwing stones, -- these ripples lap
Against the house of Jack, or toss it so
The occupants go reeling here and there,
Laugh, scowl, grow sick, tread on each other's toes.
While all the time the sea is most concerned
With tides and currents, little with the house,
Ignore this Elenor Murray or Voltaire,
Who living and who dying reproduce
Ripples upon the pools of time and place,
That knew them; and so on where neither eye
Nor mind can trace the ripples vanishing
In ether, realms of spirit, what you choose!

Now on a day when Merival was talking
More evidence at the inquest, he is brought
The card of Mary Black, associate
Of Elenor Murray in the hospital
Of France, and asks the coroner to hear
What Elenor Murray suffered in the war.
And Merival consents and has her sworn;
She testifies as follows to the jury:

Poor girl, she had an end! She seems to me
A torch stuck in a bank of clay, snuffed out,
Her warmth and splendor wasted. Never girl
Had such an ordeal and a fate before.
She was the lucky one at first, and then
Evils and enemies flocked down upon her,
And beat her to the earth.

But when we sailed
You never saw so radiant a soul,
While most of us were troubled, for you know
Some were in gloom, had quarreled with their beaux,
Who did not say farewell. And there were some
Who talked for weeks ahead of seeing beaux
And having dinners with them who missed out.

We were a tearful, a deserted lot.
And some were apprehensive -- well you know!
But Elenor, she had a beau devoted
Who sent her off with messages and love,
And comforts for her service in the war.
And so her face was lighted, she was gay,
And said to us: "How wonderful it is
To serve, to nurse, to play our little part
For country, for democracy." And to me
She said: "My heart is brimming over with love.
Now I can work and nurse, now use my hands
To soothe and heal, which burn to finger tips,
With flame for service."

Oh she had the will,
The courage, resolution; but at last
They broke her down. And this is how it was:
Her love for someone gave her zeal and grace
For watching, working, caring for the sick.
Her heart was in the cause too -- but this love
Gave beauty, passion to it. All her men
Stretched out to kiss her hands. It may be true
The wounded soldier is a grateful soul.
But in her case they felt a warmer flame,
A greater tenderness. So she won her spurs,
And honors, was beloved, she had a brain,
A fine intelligence. Then at the height
Of her success, she disobeyed a doctor --
He was a pigmy -- Elenor knew more
Than he did, but you know the discipline:
War looses all the hatreds, meanest traits
Together with the noblest, so she crumpled,
Was disciplined for this. About this time
A letter to the head nurse came -- there was
A Miriam Fay, who by some wretched fate
Was always after Elenor -- it was she
Who wrote the letter, and the letter said
To keep a watch on Elenor, lest she snag
Some officer or soldier. Elenor,
Who had no caution, venturesome and brave,
Wrote letters more than frank to one she loved
Whose tenor leaked out through the censorship.
Her lover sent her telegrams, all opened,
And read first by the head nurse. So at last
Too much was known, and Elenor was eyed,
And whispers ran around. Those ugly girls,
Who never had a man, were wagging tongues,
And still her service was so radiant,
So generous and skillful she survived,
Helped by the officers, the leading doctors,
Who liked her and defended her, perhaps
In hopes of winning her -- you know the game!
It was through them she went to Nice; but when
She came back to her duty all was ready
To catch her and destroy her -- envy played
Its part, as you can see.

Our unit broke,
And some of us were sent to Germany,
And some of us to other places -- all
Went with some chum, associate. But Elenor,
Who was cut off from every one she knew,
And shipped out like an animal to be
With strangers, nurses, doctors, wholly strange.
The head nurse passed the word along to watch her.
And thus it was her spirit, once aflame
For service and for country, fed and brightened
By love for someone, thus was left to burn
In darkness and in filth.

The hospital
Was cold, the rain poured, and the mud was frightful --
Poor Elenor was writing me -- the food
Was hardly fit to eat. To make it worse
They put her on night duty for a month.
Smallpox broke out and they were quarantined.
A nurse she chose to be her friend was stricken
With smallpox, died and left her all alone.
One rainy morning she heard guns and knew
A soldier had been stood against the wall.
He was a boy from Texas, driven mad
By horror and by drink, had killed a Frenchman.
She had the case of crazy men at night,
And one of them got loose and knocked her down,
And would have killed her, had an orderly
Not come in time. And she was cold at night,
Sat bundled up so much she scarce could walk
There in that ward on duty. Everywhere
They thwarted her and crossed her, she was nagged,
Brow-beaten, driven, hunted and besought
For favors, for the word was well around
She was the kind who could be captured -- false,
The girl was good whatever she had done.
All this she suffered, and her lover now
Had cast her off, it seems, had ceased to write,
Had gone back to America -- even then
They did not wholly break her.

But I ask
What soldier or what nurse retained his faith,
The splendor of his flame? I wish to God
They'd pass a law and make it death to write
Or speak of war as glory, or as good.
What good can come of hatred, greed and murder?
War licenses these passions, legalizes
All infamies. They talk of cruelties --
We shot the German captives -- and I nursed
A boy who shot a German, with two others
Rushed on the fallen fellow, ran him through,
Through eyes and throat with bayonets. The world
Is better, is it? And if Indians scalped
Our women for the British, and if Sherman
Cut through the south with sword and flame, to-day
Such terrors should not be, we are improved!
Yes, hate and lust have changed, and maniac rage,
And rum has lost its potency to fire
A nerve that sickens at the bloody work
Where men are butchered as you shoot and slash
An animal for food!

Well, now suppose
The preachers who preach Jesus meek and mild,
But fulminate for slaughter, when the game
Of money turns its thumbs down; if your statesmen
With hardened arteries and hardened hearts,
Who make a cult of patriotism, gain
Their offices and livelihood thereby;
Your emperors and kings and chancellors,
Who glorify themselves and win sometimes
Lands for their people; and your editors
Who whip the mob to fury, bellies fat,
Grown cynical, and rich, who cannot lose,
No matter what we suffer -- if we nurses,
And soldiers fail; your patriotic shouters
Of murder and of madness, von Bernhardis,
Treitschkes, making pawns of human life
To shape a destiny they can't control --
Your bankers and your merchants -- all the gang
Who shout for war and pay the orators,
Arrange the music -- if I say -- this crowd
Finds us, the nurses and the soldiers, cold,
Our fire of youth and faith beyond command,
Too wise to be enlisted or enslaved,
What will they do who shout for war so much?

And haven't we, the nurses and the soldiers
Written some million stories for the eyes
Of boys and girls to read these fifty years?
And if they read and understand, no war
Can come again. They can't have war without
The spirit of your Elenor Murrays -- no!

So Mary Black went on, and Merival
Gave liberty to her to talk her mind.
The jury smiled or looked intense for words
So graphic of the horrors of the war.
Then David Barrow asked: "Who is the man
That used to write to Elenor, went away?"
And Mary Black replied, "We do not know;
I do not know a girl who ever knew.
I only know that Elenor wept and grieved,
And did her duty like a little soldier.
It was some man who came to France, because
The word went round he had gone back, and left
The service, or the service there in France
Had left. Some said he'd gone to England, some
America. He must have been an American,
Or rather in America when she sailed,
Because she went off happy. In New York
Saw much of him before we sailed."

And then
The Reverend Maiworm juryman spoke up --
This Mary Black had left the witness chair --
And asked if Gregory Wenner went to France.
The coroner thought not, but would inquire.

Jane Fisher was a friend of Elenor Murray's
And held the secret of a pack of letters
Which Elenor Murray left. And on a day
She talks with Susan Hamilton, a friend.
Jane Fisher has composed a letter to
A lawyer in New York, who has the letters --
At least it seems so -- and to get the letters,
And so fulfill the trust which Elenor
Had left to Jane. Meantime the coroner
Had heard somehow about the letters, or
That Jane knows something -- she is anxious now,
And in a flurry, does not wish to go
Down to LeRoy and tell her story. So
She talks with Susan Hamilton like this:





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