Finding the Soul, a Chimera


Surgeon-poet Richard Selzer, the author of The Exact Location of the Soul, narrates his fruitless quest in pursuit of the location of the soul. He explains the soul’s elusion, “No one but the poet [sees the soul], for he sees what no one else can.” The soul eludes him, yet he still espies it in the “body diseased.” Selzer almost envies the poet’s singular eye for the soul, as it only appears before him. Once he attempts to capture the soul, “I tried to save the world, but it didn’t work out.” This glimpse into the diseased body yields what Selzer hoped to be the soul. He believes he saved the world, extracting the creature from the wound, though the scientists pulverized his glory. Selzer concludes with his sense of inferiority to the true doctor, “It is the poet who heals with his words, stanches the flow of blood, stills the rattling breath, applies poultice to the scalded flesh.” He accepts that a surgeon differs from a “doctor;” for the doctor heals the soul itself. The surgeon is the “victim of vanity,” as he only alters the physical entity. Selzer believes he could discover the exact location of the soul in man; however, he realizes only a poet – God’s darling – can see and heal the soul.