Of all the souls that stand create
I have elected one.
When sense from spirit files away,
And subterfuge is done;
When that which is and that which was
Apart, intrinsic, stand,
And this brief tragedy of flesh
Is shifted like a sand;
When figures show their royal front
And mists are carved away,—
Behold the atom I preferred
To all the lists of clay!
This is a beautiful love poem by Emily Dickinson. I picked this poem today because it is heroic and bold, and about an enduring, spiritual love.
The phrase that really gets me in this poem is “this brief tragedy of flesh”; I think that is just perfect wording. Dickinson is telling us in this poem that of all the souls on earth, she has chosen only “one”. And when the “subterfuge” of the human guise, and the brief tragedy that is out material life, is “shifted like a sand”; when “mists are carved away” and we pass on to a spiritual realm (i.e. when we die?)… “Behold the atom I preferred/ To all the lists of clay!”
I love the tone of triumph in the final two lines. The word “atom” is interesting, here. I suppose what Dickinson is getting at here is that this spirit, or “soul” is something more than the material shell — the “lists of clay” — and cannot be seen or touched physically. I love the poet’s use of the word “lists” here because it delivers a sense of the physical plain of almost being boring; there are lists and lists of physically beautiful, materially rich people, but she has chosen one “soul” — one “atom” — who is all that she could ever want, even when the material realm has passed away.
Reviewed by Emily Ardagh