“A single screw of flesh” (F293A, J263)

A single Screw of Flesh
Is all that pins the Soul
That stands for Deity, to mine,
Opon my side the Vail –

Once witnessed of the Gauze –
It’s name is put away
As far from mine, as if no
Had printed yesterday,

In tender – solemn Alphabet,
My eyes just turned to see –
When it was smuggled by
my sight
Into Eternity –

More Hands – to hold – These
are but Two –
One more new-mailed Nerve
Just granted, for the Peril’s
sake –
Some striding – Giant – Love –

So greater than the Gods
can show,
They slink before the Clay,
That not for all their Heaven
can boast
Will let it’s Keepsake – go

Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Packet XX, Fascicle 10, ca. 1861. Unpublished Poems (1935), 107.Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

This troubling and difficult poem follows “I got so I could hear his name” and continues in its agonized tone. Much hangs on the opening word, “screw.” Judith Weissman argues that Dickinson

speaks more blasphemy than many whole volumes by other nineteenth-century writers. Souls are not supposed to be pinned to each other by screws of flesh–and we can suspect that Dickinson knows what “screw” means in obscene slang. Furthermore, one human soul is not supposed to stand for deity to another.

Other notable phrases are “new-mailed Nerve,” which the Lexicon defines as “suddenly shielded, now protected with plates of armor” but sounding like “new-nailed” and thus calling up Christ’s crucifixion; also, “sent off recently; dispatched,” with the figurative meanings of “fired; sparked; activated; triggered; set off.”

And an expansive, even hopeful phrase: “Some striding – Giant – Love –” decribing an emotion  so vast it makes the Gods “slink” before it.

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