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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Stevie Smith: Scorpion


Circular diffraction of ripples at Point Reyes Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, California.
Water wave is diffracted around the rocky outcrop of Point Reyes, forming circular ripples; solar reflection seen on the left; view from the staircase leading down to the lighthouse: photo by Wing-Chi Poon, 30 August 2008

'This night shall thy soul be required of thee'
My Soul is never required of me
It always has to be somebody else of course
Will my soul be required of me tonight perhaps?

(I often wonder what it will be like
To have one's soul required of one
But all I can think of is the Out-Patients' Department --
'Are you Mrs. Briggs, dear?'
No, I am Scorpion.)

I should like my soul to be required of me, so as
To waft over grass till it comes to the blue sea
I am very fond of grass, I always have been, but there must
Be no cow, person or house to be seen.

Sea and
grass must be quite empty
Other souls can find somewhere

O Lord God please come
And require the soul of thy Scorpion

Scorpion so wishes to be gone.

File:Hermaness National Nature Reserve, Unst - -  116652.jpg

A Great Skua swoops to defend its nesting territory by the burn of Winnaswarta Dale, on Hermaness National Nature Reserve, Unst, Shetland: photo by John Dally, 2002

Stevie Smith (1902-1971): Scorpion, from Scorpion and Other Poems, 1972


TC said...

"Scorpion" was evidently Stevie Smith's favourite among the final poems she collected for a projected book, before dying of a brain tumour in 1971.

Its subject matter is not unfamiliar to readers of her earlier work.

"When Stevie was five she developed tuberculous peritonitis and was sent to a sanatorium near Broadstairs, where she remained off and on for several years. She related that her preoccupation with death began when she was seven, at a time when she was very distressed at being sent away from her mother. She thought that if she kept on crying and refusing to eat she would die, and her misery would end. When she found she did not die immediately, she began to think that she need not die today, death could be put off to another day. However she always kept in her mind the thought that death could be summoned at any time if she decided that her suffering was more than she could bear. She continued to find this thought helpful when she became depressed. Death fascinated her and is the subject of many of her poems."

Audio readings (and texts) for two of Stevie Smith's best poems can be found here.

ACravan said...

This is extraordinary (obviously) and I'm still wafting over the grass and sea of it. (The sea which somehow looks like a scorpion to me.) The poem reminds me of thoughts I had just last night lying in bed preparing to pass out. All of it is great, but

Sea and grass must be quite empty
Other souls can find somewhere else.

really resonates for me.




"Circular diffraction of ripples at Point Reyes. . ."

"To waft over grass till it comes to the blue sea. . ."

"A Great Skua swoops. . ."


line of pink cloud above still shadowed
ridge, white edge of moon behind branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

as such, that in everything
there “put into words”

is in its place, background
of tall trees, clouds

orange circle of sun rising above ridge,
cormorant flapping toward point on left

Nin Andrews said...

I like how quirky she is/was. My mom had TB, too. She said it made her vow never want to spend a day inside again, and she almost lived up to that vow

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Stevie Smith is a lightning bolt.

TC said...

Maybe my all time favourite poetic "vehicle", and getting favourite-er all the time.

Ah, but hitching a ride on that mercifully speedy scorpion-skua lightning-bolt, not so easy.

Even after many and many a sleepless night of mentally wading the historical black eddies of morbid humour, who could ever top this --

But all I can think of is the Out-Patients' Department --
'Are you Mrs. Briggs, dear?'
No, I am Scorpion.

-- I esk ya.

Anonymous said...

This poem is absolutely amazing. I'm happy you provided the background, because I was wondering / suspecting as much. What a delight. I will return to this, and her work, often.