Stephen Dunn

Another Argument with Jim About the Soul
August 22, 2011 Dunn Stephen

Another Argument with Jim About the Soul


You say I’d know it exists if
I were someone who had experienced
those inner brush fires that arise
without warning, and who loves
a good rampage now and then,
and even the weary solitude
that might follow it.

but I believe the soul exists, too.
Mine, though, is a ravenous thing
when it’s awake. But mostly it sleeps,
waiting to be nudged, pricked, startled.

Around this time we invoke a thinker –
you, Emerson — me, Novalis —
to bolster the weakness of our thinking.

You offer another example —
I’m not sure of what – of an old love
knocking on your door as if a miracle
had occurred, and say, “As St. John
of the Cross says, my dog called Ego
had gotten off its leash.”
Then you swear a rope ladder
suddenly dropped from the clouds,
and an angel descended
proclaiming the end of celestial lies.

I stop you there, and say
that saddens me because celestial lies
are my favorite lies, but what does that
have to do with soul? Rather than being
miraculous or grand, my soul
is more like a night janitor
nodding off on the job, unaware he’s
waiting to be made alert by dawn.

When I cite Wittgenstein, and a passage
from Bertrand Russell to prove my point,
I think you cannot help but assent.

You’re a pain in the ass,
you say instead, I’m talking fire here,
I’m talking rampage and old loves,
and you’re talking about this little dead,
sleepy thing wearing overalls.

I know I’m wrong
to mock anyone’s sense of the unknown,
but I say, Look, the soul is a white ball
of slop, and attribute it to Nietzsche.
Blazing ball of fire! Fucking blazing ball
of fire! you scream, as if you know
the quote and are correcting me.




Stephen Dunn’s most recent book is Whereas. He is the recipient of many awards including the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife Barbara Hurd.