P3310265 - Version 2


On my soul like a shelf
sits my own self
small as an elf
all by itself.

These four lines have popped up in my mind at various times in my life, but they are unpinned to any further memory.  Where did I read them?  Perhaps in a poetry anthology used when I last taught poetry 35 years ago, or perhaps in college. Google fails me and I can’t find its author.  I try various portions of the poem, but still, no cigar.  Google takes the poem apart and shows me dozens of posts that contain all these words,but none where they are stuck together in order.

Finally, in an article from Southern Review, I find a piece by John Montague that references his last communication from Theodore Roethke, but it seems that once again my memory has failed me, for his version is:

In a hand like a bowl
Danced my own soul,
Small as an elf,
All by itself.

Since my favorite college writing professor was a student of Roethke’s, it makes sense that this is why I remember these lines and that it was Roethke who wrote them; but since Montague describes the lines as “Blakesian,” I have to make sure that Roethke wasn’t just quoting William Blake.  I feed the correct lines into Google and finally, win success.  They are the opening lines of the poem “Restored” written by Theodore Roethke!

So, the first two lines are my own, the second two Roethke’s–a sort of nonofficial collaboration that actually makes me think more than the original.  Could “the soul” actually be our real authentic self and the rest of us just experimentation?  If there is a ruling hand in the universe, is it playing games with us–sending us out lifetime after lifetime to see how we’ll do in various situations? Like cans of Campbell’s soup lined up on a shelf, our present life is merely the flavor of the day.  Another reincarnation, another flavor.

As I grow older,  I increasingly think of life as a game–the entire universe the amusement park of a colossal mind keeping itself entertained. If we call that mind God and profess that he sees even the smallest sparrow fall, it is a testament to both the intricacy and the incredible efficiency of that mind and the interconnectedness of nature as the organizational structure by which he keeps it all straight.

6 thoughts on “SELF ON A SHELF

    1. lifelessons Post author

      I actually got two flashes but forgot the second while dealing with the first one. If I don’t get something on these one word prompts, I just start writing and sometimes something that wants to be written just pops up.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Marilyn Armstrong

    As good a way to think of God as any other I’ve encountered.

    Isn’t it interesting the way we mentally connect things and substitute words and they become locked as a real memory … when they are half memory, half creation. I kind of like your version better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. helen meikle's scribblefest

    I think we’re all ultimately alone – or perhaps I’ve just never experienced the soulmate thing people talk about. And I’m pretty sure the gods find us very entertaining, but not so sure they pull the strings – more a matter of splitting their sides at our stupidity and sending in the odd natural disaster to make us reassess our priorities and stop us getting above ourselves. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lifelessons Post author

      Oh I agree that in no way are they pulling the strings. They set it all in motion and it would not be so entertaining if they knew how it was going to proceed. The fun is in watching how we respond…with free will and free choice within the limits imposed by our situation.



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