How Many Devils Can Dance on the Point…
Dennis Joseph Enright
Why, this is hell,
And we are in it.
It began with mysterious punishments
And the punishments led to the crimes
Which are currently being punished.
The more rational you areg
(What you have paid for
You will expect to obtain
Without further payment)
The less your chances of remission.
Only the insane and saintly
Who kiss the rod so hard they break it
Escape to a palliated hell.
For the rest, why, this is it,
And we are in it.
Then what of those
Whose punishment was such they
Never lived to carry out their crimes?
More than whose fingers were held
For more than a second in more than
The flame of a candle;
Though not exclusively children.
(No need to draw a picture for you:
The chamber, the instruments, the torture;
Forget the unimaginable, the
Imaginable suffices for present purposes.)
If the other was hell
Then what is this?–
There are gradations of Hades
Like the Civil Service
Whereby the first is paradise
Compared with the last;
And heaven is where we are
When we think of where we might have been.
(Except that when we think,
We are in hell.)
Can this be heaven
Where a thoughtful landlord
Locates the windows of his many mansions
To afford you such a view?
(The chamber, the instruments, the torture.)
Can it be
The gratifying knowledge of having pleased
Someone who derives such pleasure
From being thus gratified?
In a mysterious way . . .
Lucid, strict, and certain,
Shining, wet, and hard,
No mystery at all–
Why, this is hell.
As Warya says, “you cannot help but despairingly chuckle with him at the horror of life. heh…”
And goes on to add,
“it is not one of my huge favourites, but it’s a splendidly theatrical poem; enright is witty as ever, full of cunning flourishes and sly humanity. he does draw a picture for you: the chamber, the instruments, the torture. why, this is hell.”
I personally loved the lines, “There are gradations of Hades/ Like the Civil Service/ Whereby the first is paradise/ Compared with the last;”. Reminds one of Sir Humphrey Appleby. If this were indeed hell and there were gradations – like the Civil Service. Then I would say, Appleby is probably in paradise. There is something so deviously innocent about British comedy and I guess it jumps out at you the same way in this poem by Enright.