An odd Dream Song in that it’s the only one (so far) written with five feet in every line. The details of the poem refer to a highly publicized murder trial from 1926, from a 1922 murder when Eleanor Mills and her lover, an Episcopal minister, Edward Hall, were found shot and laid out under a crabapple tree, her throat cut and her head nearly severed. Their love letters were torn up and scattered between their bodies. All grisly details of the poem are pretty much accurate. The minister’s wife and her two brothers stood trial; without enough evidence to convict, they were acquitted. A book about it was published in 1964, which B. probably read, or at least knew about, and which almost certainly led to the poem. The book speculated that the Ku Klux Klan had done the murder, since they were active in New Jersey in the 1920s. This is all in the poem.
The trial fed a nationwide media frenzy, one of the first in history, and it was not eclipsed in scope until the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930s. The poem is interesting because at the end of the first stanza, a description of the lovers being caught, then kneeling and praying, comes the line: “Henry was there.” He of course wasn’t there, but there is something going on. Both of his parents had been involved in affairs, and one of them was shot. While treated as a suicide by the police and by B. in his work, it really wasn’t. There had been a Florida land bust going on in 1926, people were losing fortunes right and left, and there were almost daily suicides because of it. The Tampa police were overwhelmed. John Smith, B.’s father, was losing his money too and was acting very strangely—he would head into the ocean and swim out of sight of the land, then head back in, and once he took his son with him. When they were rescued he threatened to take them with him next time and never come back. It seems likely that B.’s mother, or her lover, put an end to all of that once and for all. So, with this other highly publicized murder, was Henry there? In a way he was. At the end of the second stanza, all with clear, accurate details of the murder and the subsequent treatment of the bodies, “Henry was toward.” Well, it’s not clear what “toward” is supposed to mean. It does rhyme with “card,” so that’s probably all the justification for it we need. It does imply that Henry is still oriented toward the murder and the bodies. He’s still there. The third stanza is a description of the victims arriving in heaven, where they are forgiven and restored, and: “Henry was not there.”
The last statement means that God’s forgiveness, and the healing and restoring of the ruined, murdered bodies, does not extend to Henry, still floundering away down here on earth, wounded in a way that doesn’t heal. He experienced, in his own way, a similar terror and received a similar violence, but the healing and forgiving that victims receive in heaven have been denied him—because he’s still alive. It’s not something you ever get over. That’s all. Did he behave badly in his life? Yes, he sometimes did. Often did. Were there extenuating circumstances? There were. Give him a break. Bullets often scar more than the physical targets they impact. Murder or suicide, doesn’t matter. But this is also a case, I think, where the intimation of murder might be leaking through—if the reader is prepped and alert for it. And it’s possible too that the unique structure is a hint: Something about this Dream Song is special. Reader pay attention.