This week another of Stevie Smith’s highly original poems, in which she masks a serious intent by adopting the persona of a garrulous and slightly nutty aunt. It is like a conjuror’s distraction technique, but watch carefully and don’t be fooled. (‘Are you Mrs. Briggs, dear?’/No, I am Scorpion.) And scorpions carry a sting in the tail…
‘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.
The key feature of Scorpion (the person) is surely the sting. Is the sting depression? In that case the sting only strikes one person (Scorpion)?
There used to be a belief that if you surrounded a scorpion with a ring of fire it would commit suicide by stinging itself to death. I believe this to be a myth since scorpions are immune to their own venom, and the poor creature, placed in such a situation, is probably just writhing about waving its sting before succumbing to the heat. Not sure if this is relevant to the poem, but she certainly suffered from depressions, which could be likened to a ring of fire, and seems to have been fascinated by the idea of suicide while ultimately rejecting it. Unlike poor Sylvia Plath who was a great fan of Stevie’s.
Hi David, I’ll assume the speaker is female because of the mention of “Mrs. Briggs”. Why the speaker calls herself Scorpion is the main thing that puzzles me about the poem. Yes the belief you mention might help explain it.