Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
Henry Murray
By Edgar Lee Masters
From “Domesday Book”

Henry Murray, father of Eleanor Murray,
Willing to tell the coroner, Merival,
All things about himself, about his wife,
All things as well about his daughter, touching
Her growth and home life—if the coroner        5
Would hear him privately—(except those things
Strictly relating to the inquest), went
To Coroner Merival’s office, and thus spoke:
I was born here some sixty years ago,
Was nurtured in these common schools, too poor        10
To satisfy my longing for a college.
Felt myself gifted with some gifts of mind,
Some fineness of perception, thought; began
By twenty years to gather books and read
Some history, philosophy and science.        15
Had vague ambitions, analyzed perhaps,
To learn, be wise.
                Now if you study me,
Look at my face, you’ll see some trace of her:
My brow is hers; my mouth is hers; my eyes,
Of lighter color, are yet hers; this way        20
I have of laughing, as I saw inside
The matter deeper cause for laughter, hers;
And my jaw hers, betokening a will;
Hers too, the chin that mitigates the will
Shading to softness as hers did.
                        Our minds
Had something too in common: first, this will
Which tempted fate to bend it, break it too—
I know not why in her case or in mine.
But when my will is bent I grow morose,
And when it’s broken I become a scourge        30
To all around me. Yes, I’ve visited
A life-time’s wrath upon my wife. This daughter,
When finding will subdued, did not give up,
But took the will for something else—went on
By ways more prosperous; but, as for myself,        35
I hold on when defeated, and lie down
Where I am beaten—lie and ruminate
Upon my failure, think of nothing else.
But truth to tell, while we two were opposed,
This daughter and myself, while our temperaments        40
Kept us at swords’ points, while I saw in her
Traits of myself I liked not, also traits
Of the child’s mother which I loathe because
They have undone me—helped to—yet no less
I saw this child as better than myself,        45
And better than her mother, so admired.
Yet I could never trust her: as a child
She would rush in relating lying wonders;
She feigned emotions, purposes and moods;
She was a little actress from the first,        50
And all her high resolves from first to last
Seemed but a robe with flowing sleeves, in which
Her hands could hide some theft, some secret spoil.
When she was fourteen I could see in her
The passionate nature of her mother—well,        55
You know a father’s feelings when he sees
His daughter sensed by youths and lusty men
As one of the kind for capture. It’s a theme
A father cannot talk of with his daughter.
He may say, “Have a care,” or, “I forbid        60
Your strolling, riding with these boys at night.”
But if the daughter stands and eyes the father
As she did me with flaming eyes, then goes
Her way in secret, lies about her ways,
The father can but wonder, watch or brood,        65
Or switch her maybe—for I switched her once,
And found it did no good. I needed then
Her mother’s aid; but no, her mother saw
Herself in the girl, and said she knew the girl,
That I was too suspicious, out of touch        70
With a young girl’s life, desire for happiness.
But when this Alma Bell affair came up,
And the school principal took pains to say
My daughter was too reckless of her name
In strolling and in riding, then my wife        75
Howled at me like a tigress: “Whip that man!”
And as my daughter cried, and my wife screeched,
And called me coward if I let him go,
I rushed out to the street and, finding him,
Beat up his face, though almost dropping dead        80
From my exertion. Well, the aftermath
Was worse for me, not only by the talk,
But in my mind who saw no gratitude
In daughter or in mother for my deed.
The daughter from that day took up a course        85
More secret from my eyes, more variant
From any wish I had. We stood apart
And grew apart thereafter. And from that day
My wife grew worse in temper, worse in nerves.
And though the people say she is my slave,        90
That I alone of all who live have conquered
Her spirit, still what despotism works
Free of reprisals, or of breakings-forth
When hands are here, not there?
                        But to return:
One takes up something for a livelihood        95
And dreams he’ll leave it later, when in time
His plans mature; and as he earns and lives,
With some time for his plans, hopes for the day
When he may step forth from his olden life
Into a new life made thus gradually.        100
I hoped to be a lawyer; but to live
I started as a drug clerk. Look, to-day
I own that little drug-store—here I am
With drugs my years through, drugged myself at last.
And as a clerk I met my wife, went mad        105
About her—and I see in Eleanor
Her mother’s gift for making fools of men.
Why—I can scarce explain it—it’s the flesh,
But then it’s spirit too; such flaming up
As came from flames like ours, but more of hers        110
Burned in the children. Yet it might be well
For theorists in heredity to think
About the matter.
                Well, but how about
The flames that make the children? For this woman
Too surely ruined me and sapped my life.        115
You hear much of the vampire, but what wife
Has not more chance for eating up a man?
She has him daily, has him fast for years.
A man can shake a vampire off, but how
To shake a wife off, when the children come,        120
And you must leave your place, your livelihood,
To shake her off? And if you shake her off
Where do you go, what do you do, and how?
You see ’twas love that caught me, yet even so
I had resisted love had I not seen        125
A chance to rise through marriage. It was this:
You know, of course, my wife was Eleanor Fouche,
Daughter of Arthur, thought to be so rich.
And I had hopes to patch my fortunes up
In this alliance, and become a lawyer.        130
What happened? Why, they helped me not at all;
The children came, and I was chained to work
To clothe and feed a family. All the while
My soul contested with this aspiration,
And my good nature went to ashes, dampened        135
By secret tears which filtered through as lye.
Then finally, when my wife’s father died
After our marriage twenty years or so,
His fortune came to nothing; all she got
Went to that little house we live in now—        140
It needs paint now, the porch has rotten boards—
And I was forced to see these children learn
What public schools could teach; and even as I
Left school half-taught and never went to college,
So did these children, saving Eleanor,        145
Who saw two years of college, earned herself
By teaching.
            I choke up, just wait a minute!
What depths of failure may a man come to
As father, who can think of this and be
Quiet about his heart? His heart will hurt,        150
Move, as it were, as a worm does with its pain.
And these days now, when trembling hands and head
Foretell decline or worse, and make one think,
As face to face with God, most earnestly,
Most eager for the truth, I wonder much        155
If I misjudged this daughter, canvass her
Myself to see if I had power to do
A better part by her. That is the way
This daughter has got in my soul. At first
She incubates in me as force unknown,        160
A spirit strange, yet kindred, in my life;
And we are hostile and yet drawn together.
But when we’re drawn together see and feel
These oppositions. Next she’s in my life—
The second stage of the fever—as dislike,        165
Repugnance, and I wish her out of sight,
Out of my life. Then come these ugly things,
Like Alma Bell, and rumors from away
Where she is teaching, and I put her out
Of life and thought the more, and wonder why        170
I fathered such a nature, whence it came.
Well, then the fever goes and I am weak—
Repentant it may be; delirious visions
That haunted me in fever plague me yet,
Even while I think them visions, nothing else.        175
So I grow pitiful and blame myself
For any part I had in her mistakes,
Sorrows and struggles, and I curse myself
That I was powerless to help her more.
Thus is she like a fever in my life.        180
Well, then the child grows up. But as a child
She dances, laughs and sings; at three years springs
For minutes and for minutes on her toes—
Like skipping rope, clapping her hands the while,
Her blue eyes twinkling, and her milk-white teeth        185
Glistening as she gurgles, shouts and laughs—
There never was such vital strength! I give
The pictures as my memory took them. Next
I see her looking side-ways at me, as if
She studied me, avoided me. The child        190
Is now ten years of age; and now I know
She smelled the rats that made the family hearth
A place for scampering—the horrors of our home.
She thought I brought the rats and kept them there—
These rats of bickering, anger, strife at home.        195
I knew she blamed me for her mother’s moods,
Who dragged about the kitchen day by day
Sad-faced and silent. So the up-shot was
I had two enemies in the house, where once
I had but one, her mother. This made worse        200
The state for both, and worse the state for me.
And so it goes. Then next there’s Alma Bell.
The following year my daughter finishes
The High School; and we sit—my wife and I—
To see the exercises. And that summer Eleanor,        205
Now eighteen and a woman, goes about—
I don’t know what she does; sometimes I see
Some young man with her walking. But at home,
When I come in, the mother and the daughter
Put pedals on their talk, or change the theme—        210
I am shut out.
            And in the fall I learn
From some outsider that she’s teaching school,
And later people laugh and talk to me
About her feat of conquering certain Czechs
Who broke her discipline in school.
                            Well then,
Two years go on that have no memory,
Just like sick days in bed when you lie there
And wake and sleep and wait. But finally
Her mother says, “To-night our Eleanor
Leaves for Los Angeles.” And then the mother,        220
To hide a sob, coughs nervously and leaves
The room where I am for the kitchen. I
Sit with the evening paper, let it fall,
Then hold it up to read again and try
To tell myself, “All right, what if she goes?”        225
The evening meal goes hard, for Eleanor
Shines forth in kindness for me, talks and laughs—
I choke again…. She says to me, if God
Had meant her for a better youth, then God
Had given her a better youth; she thanks me        230
For making High School possible to her,
And says all will be well—she will earn money
To go to college, and she will gain strength
By helping self. Just think, my friend, to hear
Such words, which in their kindness proved my failure,        235
When I had hoped, aspired, when I had given
My very soul, whether I liked this daughter
Or liked her not, out of a generous hand,
Large-hearted in its carelessness, to give
A daughter of such mind a place in life,        240
And schooling for the place.
                    The meal was over.
We stood there silent; then her face grew wet
With tears, as wet as blossoms soaked with rain.
She took my hand and took her mother’s hand
And put our hands together: then she said,        245
“Be friends, be friends!” and hurried from the room,
Her mother following. I stepped out-doors,
And stood what seemed a minute, entered again,
Walked to the front room, from the window saw
Eleanor and her mother in the street.        250
The girl was gone! How could I follow them?—
They had not asked me. So I stood and saw
The canvas telescope her mother carried.
They disappeared. I went back to my store,
Came home at nine o’clock, lighted a match,        255
And saw my wife in bed, cloths on her eyes.
She turned her face to the wall, and didn’t speak.
Next morning at the breakfast-table she,
Complaining of a stiff arm, said: “That satchel
Was weighted down with books, my arm is stiff—        260
Eleanor took French books to study French;
When she can pay a teacher, she will learn
How to pronounce the words, but by herself
She’ll learn the grammar, how to read.” She knew
How words like that would hurt!
                            I merely said,
“A happy home is better than knowing French,”
And went off to my store.
                    But, Coroner,
Search for the men in her life. When she came
Back from the West after three years, I knew
By look of her eyes that some one filled her life,        270
Had taken her life and body. What if I
Had failed as father in the way I failed?
And what if our home was not home to her?
She could have married—why not? If a girl
Can fascinate the men—I know she could—        275
She can have marriage if she wants to marry;
Unless she runs to men already married—
And if she does so, don’t you make her out
As loose and bad?
              Well, what is more to tell?
She learned French, seemed to know the ways of the world,        280
Knew books, knew how to dress, gave evidence
Of contact with refinements. Letters came,
When she was here at intervals, inscribed
In writing of élite ones, gifted maybe.
And she was filial and kind to me,        285
Most kind toward her mother, gave us things
At Christmas time. But still her way was such
That I as well had been familiar with her
As with some formal lady visiting.
She came back here before she went to France,        290
Stayed two days with us. Once upon the porch
She turned to me and said: “I wish to honor
Mother and you by serving in the war.
You must rejoice that I can serve—you must!
But most I wish to honor America,        295
This land of promise, of fulfilment too,
Which proves to all the world that men and women
Are born alike of God—at least the rich,
And classes formed in pride, have neither hearts
Nor minds above the souls of those who work.        300
This land that reared me is my dearest love—
I go to serve the country.”
                  Pardon me—
A man of my age in an hour like this
Must cry a little. Wait till I can say
The last words that she said to me.
                          She put
Her arms about me, then she said to me:
“I am so glad my life, and place in life,
Were such that I was forced to rise or sink,
To strive or fail. God has been good to me,
Who gifted me with spirit to aspire.”        310
I go back to my store now. In these days—
Last days, of course—I try to be a husband,
Try to be kinder to the mother of Eleanor.
Life is too deep—we break at last, we say,
“O Will, whatever you are, we bow to you;        315
We must submit.”

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