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



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DOMESDAY BOOK: THE JURY DELIBERATES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The jurymen are seated here and there
Last Line: Your names, and I'll return it to the clerk.
Subject(s): Death; Justice; Life; United States; Dead, The; America


The jurymen are seated here and there
In Merival's great library. They smoke,
And drink a little beer or Scotch. Arise
At times to read the evidence taken down,
And typed for reference. Before them lie
Elenor Murray's letters, all the letters
Written to Merival -- there's Alma Bell's,
And Miriam Fay's, letters anonymous.
The article of Roberts in the Dawn,
That one of Demos, Hogos; a daily file
Of Lowell's Times -- Lowell has festered now
Some weeks, a felon-finger in a stall.
And where is Barrett Bays? In Kankakee
Where Elenor Murray's ancestor was kept.
The strain and shame had broken him; a fear
Fell on him of a consequence when the coroner
Still kept him with a deputy. He grew wild,
Attacked the deputy, began to wander
And show some several selves. A multiple
Spirit of devils had him. Dr. Burke
Went over him and found him mad.

And now
The jury meet amid a rapid shift
Of changes, mist and cloud. The man is sick
Who administers the country. Has come back
To laud the pact of peace; his auditors
Turn silently away, whole states assemble
To hear and turn away, sometimes to heckle.
And if a mattoid emperor caused the war,
And Elenor Murrays put the emperor down,
The emperor, could he laugh at all, can laugh
To see a country, bent to spend its last
Dollar, its blood to the last drop, having spent
Enough of these, go mad as Barrett Bays.
And like a headless man, seen in a dream,
Go capering in an ecstasy of doubt,
Regret and disillusion. He can laugh
To see the pact, which took the great estate,
Once his and God's, and wrapt it as with snakes
That stung and sucked, rejected in the land
That sent these Elenor Murrays to make free
The world from despotism. See that very land
Crop despotisms -- so the jury sees
Convened to end the case of Elenor Murray. . . .

And Rev. Maiworm, juryman, gives his thought
To conquest of the world for Christ, and says
The churches must unite to free the world
From war and sin. Result? Why less and less
Homes like the Murray home, where husband, wife,
Live in dissension. More and more of schools
For Elenor Murrays. Happy marriages
Will be the rule, our Elenors will find
Good husbands, quiet hearths, a competence.
And Isaac Newfeldt said: "You talk pish-posh.
You go about at snipping withered leaves,
And picking blasted petals -- take the root,
Get at the soil -- you cannot end these wars
Until you solve the feeding problem. Quit
Relying on your magic to make bread
With five loaves broken, raise a bigger crop
Of wheat, and get it to the mouths of men.
And as for sin -- what is it? -- All of sin
Lies in the customs, comes from how you view
The bread and butter matter; all your gods
And sons of God are guardians of the status
Of business and of money; sin a thing
Which contradicts, or threatens banks and wharves.
And as for that your churches now control
As much as human nature can digest
A dominance like that. And what's the state
Of things in Christendom? Why, wars, and want
And many Elenor Murrays. Tyrannies
Are like as pea and pea; you shall not drink,
Or read, or talk, or trade, are from one pod.
What would I do? Why, socialize the world,
Then leave men free to live or die, let nature
Go decimating as she will, and weed
The worthless with disease or alcohol --
You won't see much of that, however, if
You socialize the world."

"And David Barrow
Spoke up and said: "No ism is enough.
The question is, Is life worth living, good
Or bad? If bad, I think that Elenor Murray had
As good a life as any. Here we've sat
These weeks and heard these stories -- nothing new;
And as to waste, our time is wasted here,
If there were better things to do; and yet
Perhaps there is no better. I've enjoyed
This work, association. Well, you're told
To judge not, and that means to judge not man;
You are not told to judge not God. And so
I judge Him. And again your Elenor Murrays,
Your human being cannot will his way,
But God's omnipotent, and where He fails
He should be censured. Why does He allow
A world like this, and suffer earthquakes, storms,
The sinking of Titanics, cancers? Why
Suffer these wars, this war? -- Talk of the riffles
That flowed from Elenor Murray -- here's a wave
Of tidal power, stirred by a greedy coot
Who called himself an emperor! And look
Our land, America, is ruined, slopped
For good, or for our lives with filth and stench;
So that to live here takes what strength you have,
None left for living, as a man should live.
And this America once free and fair
Is now the hatefulest, commonest group of men,
Women and children in the Occident.
What's life here now? Why, boredom, nothing else. . . .
Why pity Elenor Murray? Gottlieb Gerald
Told of her home life; it was good enough,
Average American, or better. Schools
She had in plenty, what would she have done
With courses to the end in music, art?
She was not happy. Elenor had a brain,
And brains and happiness are at enmity.
And if the world goes on some thousand years,
The race as much advanced beyond us now
In feeling, thought, as we are now beyond
Pinthecanthropus, say, why, all will see
What I see now; -- 'twere better if the race
Had never risen. All analogies
Of nature show that death of man is death.
He plants his seed and dies, the resurrection
Is not the man, but is the child that grows
From sperm he sows. The grain of wheat that sprouts
Is not the stalk that bore it. Now suppose
We get the secret in a thousand years,
Can prove that death's the end, analogies
Put by with amber, frogs' legs -- tell me then
What opiate will still the shrieks of men?
But some of us know now, and I am one.
There is no heaven for me; and as for those
Who make a heaven to get out of this --
You gentlemen who call life good, the world
The work of God's perfection; yet invent
A heaven to rest in from this world of woe --
You do not wish to go there; and resort
To cures and Christian Science to stay here!
Which shows you are not sure. And thus we have
Your Christian saying at heart that life is bad,
And heaven is good, but not so good and sure
That you will hurry to it. Why, I'll prove
The Christian pessimist, as well as I.
He says life is so bad it has no meaning,
Unless there be a future; and I say
Life's bad, and if no future, then is worse.
And as it has no future, is a hell.
This girl was soaked in opiates to the last.
Religion, love for Barrett Bays, believed
That God is love. Love is a word to me
That has no meaning but in terms of man.
And if a man cause war, or suffer war,
When he could stop it, do we say he loves?
Why call God love who can prevent a war?
To chasten us, to better, purge our sins?
Well, if it be then we are bettered, purged
When William Hohenzollern goes to war
And makes the whole world crazy."

"Understand
I do not mock, I pity man and life.
No man has sat here who has suffered more,
Seeing the life of Elenor Murray, through
Her life beholding life, our country's life.
I pity man and life. I curse the scheme
Which wakes the senseless clay to lips that bleed,
And eyes that weep, and hearts that agonize,
Then in an instant make them clay again!
And for it all no reason, that the reason
Can bring to light to stand the light."

"And yet
I'd make life better, food and shelter better
And wider happiness, and fuller love.
We're travelers on a ship that has no bourne
But rocks, for us. On such a ship 'twere wise
To have the daily comforts, foolish course
To neither eat, nor sleep, keep warm, nor sing.
But only walk the rainy deck and wait.
The little opiates of happiness
Would make the sailing better, though we know
The trip is nowhere and the rocks will sink
The portless steamer."

"Is it portless?" asked
Llewellyn George, "you're leaping to a thought,
And overlook a world of intimations,
And hints of truth. I grant you take this race
That lives to-day, and make the world a boat
There is no port for us as human lives
In this our life. But look, you see the race
Has climbed, a mountain trail, and looks below
From certain heights to-day at man the beast.
We scan a half a million years of man
From caves to temples, gestures, beacon fires
To wireless. Call that mechanical,
And power developed over tools. But here
Is mystery beyond these. -- What of powers,
Devotions, aspirations, sacred flame
Which masters nature, worships life, defies
Death to obstruct it, hungers for the right,
The truth, hates wrong, and by that passion wills
All art, all beauty, goodness, and creates
Those living waters of increasing life
By which man lives, and has to-day the means
Of fuller living. Here's a realm of richness,
Beyond and separate from material things,
Your aeroplanes or conquests. Now I put
This question to you, David Barrow, what
But God who is and has some end for life,
And gives it meaning, though we see it not --
What is it in the heart of man which lifts,
Sustains him to the truth, the harmony,
The beauty say of loyalty, or truth
Or art, or science? lighting lamps for men
To walk by, men who hate the lamps, the hand
That lights? What is this spirit, but the spirit
Of Something which moves through us, to an end,
And by its constancy in man made constant
Proclaims an end? There's Bruno, Socrates,
There's Washington who might have lost his life,
Why do these men cling to the vision, hope?
When neither poverty, nor jeers, nor flames,
Nor cups of poison stay? Who say thereby
That death is nothing, but this life of ours,
Which can be shaped to truth and harmony,
And rising flame of spirit, giving light,
Is everything worth while, must be lived so
And if not lived so, then there's death indeed,
By turning from the voice that says that man
Must still aspire. And why aspire if death
Ends us, the scheme? And all this realm of spirit,
Of love for truth and beauty, is the play
Of shadows on the tomb?"

"Now take this girl:
She knew before she sailed to France, this man,
This Barrett Bays was mad about her -- knew
She could stay here and have him, live with him,
And thus achieve a happiness. And she knew
To leave him was to make a chance to lose him.
But then you say she knew he'd tire of her,
And left for France. And still that happiness
Before he tired would be hers. You see
This spirit I'd delineate working here:
To sacrifice and by the sacrifice
Rise to a bigger spirit, make it truer;
Then bring that truer spirit to her love
For Barrett Bays, and not just loll and slop
In love to-day. Why does she wish to give
A finer spirit to this Barrett Bays?
And to that end take life in hand? It's this:
My Something, God at work. You say it's woman
In sublimate of passion -- call it that.
Why sublimate a passion? All her life
This girl aspires -- you think to win a man?
But win a man with what? With finest self
Make this her contribution to these riches,
Which Bruno and the others filled so full.
You see this Something going on, but races
Come up, express themselves and pass away;
But yet this Something manifests itself
Through souls like Elenor Murray's -- fills her life
With fuller meanings, maybe at the last
This Something will reveal itself so clear
That men like David Barrow can perceive.
And Love, this spirit, twin of Death, you see
Love slays this girl, but Love remains to slay,
Lift up, drive on and slay. I call Death twin
Of Love, and why? Because two things alone
Make what we are and live, first Love the flame,
And Death the cap that snuffs it. Is it bread
That keeps us dancing, skating like these bugs
That play criss-cross on evening waters? -- no!
It's bread to get more life to give more love,
Bring to some heart a fuller life, receive
A fuller life for having given life.
This force of love may look demonical.
It tears, destroys, and crushes, chokes and kills,
Is always stretching hands to Death its twin.
And yet it is creation and creates,
Feeds roses, jonquils, columbines, gardenias,
As well as thistles, cockle burrs and thorns.
This is the force to which the girl's alert,
And sensitive, is shaken by its power,
Driven, uplifted, purified; a doll
Of paper dancing on magnetic plates;
And by that passion lusts for Death himself,
For union with another, sacrifice,
Beauty, and she aspires and toils, and turns
To God, the symptom always of this nature.

My fellow-jurymen, you'll never see,
Or learn so well about another soul
That had this Love force deeper in her flesh,
Her spirit, suffered more. Why do we suffer?
What is this love force? 'Tis the child of blood
Of madness, as this Elenor is the seed
Of that old grandma, who was mad, and cousin
Of Taylor who did murder. What is this
But human spirit flamed and subtleized
Until it is a poison and a food;
A madness but a clearest sanity;
A vision and a blindness, all as if
When nature goes so far, refines so much
Her balance has been broken, if the Something
Makes not a genius or a giant soul.
And so we suffer. But why do we suffer?
Well, not as Barrow said, that life is bad;
A failure and a fraud. Not suffering
That points to dust, defeat, is painfulest;
But suffering that points to skies and realms
Above us, whence we came, or where we go,
That suffering is most poignant, as it is
Significant as well, and rapturous too.
The pain that thrills us for the singing Flame
Of Love, the force creative, that's the pain!
And those must suffer most to whom the sounds
Of music or of words, or scents, or scenes
Recall lost realms. No soul can understand
Music or words in whom there is not stirred
A recollection -- that is genius too:
A memory, and reliving hours we lived
Before we looked upon this world of man." . . .

Then Winthrop Marion said: "I like your talk,
Llewellyn George, but still what killed the girl?
What was the cause of death of Elenor Murray?
She died from syncope, that's clear enough.
The doctors tell us that in syncope
The victim should be laid down, not held up.
And Barrett Bays, the bungler, held her up
When she was stricken -- like the man, I think!
Well, Coroner, suppose we make a verdict,
And say we find that had this Barrett Bays
Sustained this Elenor Murray in the war,
And in her life, with friendship, and with faith
She had not died. Suppose we further find
That when he took her, held her in his arms
When she had syncope, he was dull or crazed,
And missed a chance to save her. We could find
That had he laid her down when she was stricken
She might have lived -- I knew that much myself.
And we could find that had he never driven
This woman from his arms, but kept her there,
Before said day of August 7th, no doubt
She had not died on August 7th. In short,
He held her up, and should have laid her down,
And drove her from him when she needed arms
To hold her up. And so we find her death
Was due to Barrett Bays -- we censure him,
Would hold him to the courts -- that cannot be --
And so we hold him up for memory
Contemptuous, and say his bitter words
Brought on the syncope, so long prepared
By what he did. We write his course unfeeling,
Weak, selfish, petty, flowing from the craze
Of sexual jealousy, made worse by war,
And universal madness, erethism
Of hellish war. And, gentlemen, one thing:
Paul Robert's article in the Dawn suggests
Some things I credit, knowing them. We get
Our notions of uncleanness from the Jews,
The Pentateuch. There are no women here,
And I can talk; -- you know the ancient Jews
Deemed sex unclean, and only to be touched
At sufferance of Jehovah; birth unclean,
A mother needing purification after
Her hour of giving birth. You know their laws
Concerning adultery. Well, they've tainted us
In spite of Greece. Now look at Elenor Murray:
What if she went with Gregory Wenner. Hell!
Did that contaminate her, change her flesh,
Or change her spirit? All this evidence
Shows that it did not. But it changed this man,
Because his mind was slime where snakes could breed.
But now what do we see? That woman is
Essential genius, man just mechanism
Of conscious thought and strength. This Elenor
Is wiser, being nature, than this man,
And lives a life that puts this Barrett Bays
To shame and laughter. Look at her: She's brave,
Devoted, loyal, true and dutiful,
She's will to life, and through it senses God,
And seeks to serve the cosmic soul. I think
This jury should start now to raise a fund
To erect a statue of her in the park
To keep her name and labors fresh in mind
To those who shall come after."

"And I'll sign
A verdict in these words, but understand
Such things are Coram non judice; still
We can chip in our money, start the fund
To build this monument."

Ritter interrupted.
The banker said: "I'll start it with a hundred,"
And so the fund was started.

Marion
Resumed to speak of riffles: "In Chicago
There's less than half the people speaking English,
The rest is Babel: Germans, Russians, Poles
And all the tongues, much rippling going on,
And if we couldn't trace the riffles out
From Elenor Murray, we must give this up.
One thing is sure: Look out for England, if
America shall grow a separate soul.
You may have congresses, and presidents,
These states, but if America is a realm
Of tribute as to thought, America
Is just a province. And it's past the time
When we should be ourselves, we've wasted time,
And grafted alien things upon our bole.
A Domesday of the minds that think and know
In our America would give us hope,
We have them in abundance. What I hate
Is that crude Demos which shouts down the minds,
Outvotes them, takes these silly lies that move
The populace and makes them into laws,
And makes a village of a great republic."

And Merival listened as the jurymen
Philosophied the case of Elenor Murray,
And life at large. And having listened spoke:
"I like the words Llewellyn George has said.
Love is a sea which wrecks and sinks our craft,
But re-creates the hands that build again;
And like a tidal wave which sponges out
An island or a city, lifts and leaves
Fresh seeds and forms of beauty on the peaks.
The whinchat in the mud upon its claws,
Storm driven from its course to sea, brings life
Of animal and plant to virgin shores,
And islands strange and new. These happenings
Of Elenor Murray carry beauty forth,
Unhurt amid the storm-cloud, darkness, fire,
To lives and eras. And our country too,
So ruined and so weltering, like a ball
Of mud made in a missile by a god
May bear, no less, a pearl at core, a truth,
A liberty, a genius, beauty, -- thrown
In mischief by the god, and staining walls
Of this our temple; in a day to be
Dried up, cracks open, and the pearl appears
To be set in a precious time beyond
Our time and vision. This is what I mean:
Call Elenor egoist, and make her work,
And life the means of rich return to her
In exaltation, pride; -- a missile of mud,
It carries still the pearl of her, the seed
Of finer spirits. We must open eyes
To see inside the mud-ball. If it be
We conquered slavery of the negro through,
Because of economic forces, yet
We conquered it. Trade, cotton, were the mud
Upon the whinchat's claws containing seeds
Of liberties to be, and carried forth
In mid seas of the future to sunny isles,
More blest than ours. And as for this, you know
The English blotted slavery from their books
And left their books unbalanced in point of cash,
But balanced richly in a manhood gain.
I warn you, David Barrow, pessimist,
Against a general slur on life and man.
Deride the Christian ethic, if you choose,
You must retain its word of benevolence;
Or better, you must honor man, whose heart
Leaps up to its benevolence, from whose heart
The Christian doctrine of benevolence
Did issue to this world. If Christian doctrine
Be man-made, not a miracle, as it is
All man-made, still it's out of generous fire
Of human spirit; that's the thing divine. . . .
Now how is Elenor Murray wonderful
To me viewed through this mass of evidence?
Why, as the soul maternal, out of which
All goodness, beauty, and benevolence,
All aspiration, sacrifice, all death
For truth and liberty blesses life of us.
This soul maternal, passion to create
New life and guide it into happiness,
Is Mother Mary of all tenderness,
All charity, all vision, rises up
From its obscurity and primal force
Of romance, passion and the child, to realms,
Democracies, republics; never flags
To make them brighter, freer, so to spread
Its ecstasy to all, and take in turn
Redoubled ecstasy! The tragedy
Is that this Elenor for her mother gift
Is cursed and tortured, sent a wanderer;
And in her death must find much clinging mud
Around the pearl of her. If that be mud,
Which we have heard, around her, is it mud
That weights the soul of America, the pure
Dream of our founders? Larger Athens, where
All things should be heard gladly and considered,
And men should grow, be forced to grow, because
Not driven or restrained by usages,
Or laws of mad majorities, but left
At their own peril to work out their lives. . . .
Well, gentlemen, I'll tell you what I've learned.
What is a man or woman but a sperm
Accreted into largeness? Still a sperm
In likeness, being brain and spinal cord,
Fed by the glands, the thyroid and the rest,
Whose secrets we are ignorant of. We know
That when they fail our minds fail. But the glands
Are visible and clear: but in us whirl
Emotions; fear, disgust, murder or wrath,
Traced back to animals as moods of flight
Repulsion, curiosity, all the rest.
Now what are these but levers of our machine?
Elenor Murray teaches this to me:
Build up a science of these levers, learn
To handle fear, disgust, anger, wonder.
They teach us physiology; who teaches
The use of instincts and emotions, powers?
All learning may be that, but what is that?
Why just a spread of food, where after nibbling
You learn what you can eat, and what is good
For you to eat. You'll see a different world
When this philosophy of levers rules." . . .

Then Merival tacked round and said: "I'll show
The riffles in my life from Elenor Murray:
The politicians give me notice now
I cannot be the coroner again.
I didn't want to be, but I had planned
To go to Congress, and they say to that
We do not want you. So my circle turns,
And riffles back to breeding better hogs,
And finer cattle. Here's the verdict, sign
Your names, and I'll return it to the clerk.





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