Friday, July 14, 2006

Stevie Smith

I love reading Stevie Smith. She always cheers me up, or haunts me, even when it is a poem I have read several times. She is the girl with whom I run away into the woods, the older sister I curl up against, knowing that she is as frightened as I am but pretends that being lost is quite fun, really. Not that she does not acknowledge her own fears. But she tells of them in stories that charm me, and make me laugh or cry.


'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 else.

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

Scorpion so wishes to be gone.

Dickinson sounds a similar note in her "I am Nobody. Who are You?/Are you nobody too?" But Smith's varied line lengths and irregular rhyme schemes are more whimsical and exploratory at the same time. Her irregular form encompasses a greater range of tones within one poem: the aggrieved lament of "My soul is never required of me;" the faux naivete of "I often wonder what it will be like;" the comedy in the comparison to the Out-Patients' Department; the epiphanic "I am Scorpion" (the surprise enhanced by the rhyme with "one"); and the wistful yearning of the conclusion "Scorpion so wishes to be gone." There are idiosyncracies, as in the use of italics for emphasis, just as Dickinson uses the dash for her own individual purposes, but the idiosyncracies feel more conversational than programmatic or formal or, if one wishes to be mean, pretentious. Smith's music flexes to suit her different tones.


Student said...

Much in Stevie Smith about the desirability of death. "My heart goes out to my Creator in love" comes to mind. One thing I really enjoy is that repetitive tic she sometimes has ("deeply morbid, deeply morbid" "all alone, all alone" etc), which slows things down a bit when she is doing one of her flying pieces. Thanks for sharing.

dreamer idiot said...

Thx for putting this up, never heard of Stevie Smith before this nice introduction.

Jee Leong Koh said...
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Jee Leong Koh said...

Stevie, like so many poets, is in love with death. Is it a pose? No poseur, Stevie displays a self-aware irony that makes me take her seriously. There is a Penguin edition of her collected poems, which also prints her child-like doodles and drawings.

Jee Leong

Student said...

No, the last thing she is is a poseur. And anyway, Death rules! I have the (or an) edition with her drawings -- they are stick-ey but very incisive.

Jee Leong Koh said...

The drawings are delightful.

Jee Leong