Thursday, March 01, 2007

Levels: A Poem-Thing


I wonder if it is hotter
On the fourth floor of hell
Than the third. Or second.
No doubt the first is warm enough,
Housing, as it does, the inferno.

But the second, or higher?
Think about it.
Heat rises, as a rule.
The full wrath of a flame is in the tip.

One thing is certain,
To do it right you need tiers.
Elevation. It stands to reason.
Controlled, long-term roasting means levels.

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2007

For a discussion of the above poem, click on the "Comments" button, below.


Merisi's Vienna For Beginners said...

Let us hope we'll never find out! ;-)
I like the poem, Dante meets Billy Collins.

cipriano said...

Thank you Merisi.
I LOVE Billy Collins' poetry!
To be, even jokingly, compared to him [and that Dante guy]... well, it makes me want to write more poem-things.
And yes, may we never know the actual temperature of the place. [Just for the hell of it, I should mention that I do not at all believe that a literal hell-place exists, and in fact, I am thinking of writing a poet's-own interpretive study of Levels, and blogging it!]
-- Cip

Soph said...

Yes, Cip,
I know that poets are notorious for letting the work speak for itself, but please do write that poet's own interpretation of this grand little poem.
I like it too.
It seems to be toying with me just a bit. Teasing me with something that may first appear (like Collins' work) to be straightforward, literal ...but - when one reads the underside of it - it isn't.
It would be great fun to hear from the poet himself - as himself - commenting on the inspiration of this poem. This "controlled," and simmered - even roasted - word magic.

I'll watch for your response.

cipriano said...

Normally I would not do such a thing as I am about to do.
That is, talk about one of my own poem-things.
But since Merisi has graciously labelled me a Dante-Collins hybrid, and Soph has asked for some explication, I shall give it a go.

First off, from start to finish, this poem-thing is meant to briefly point out some of the absurdities inherent in a traditional concept of hell. One of these absurdities seems [to me at least] to be the concept of people burning forever and ever, amen!
So it is that the narrator “wonders” about it for a moment.
Would hell be this sort of shemozzle of people [and in what sense “people” like, with normal pain-perception that we have on this side of death? People with eternally sensitive nerve-endings?]… would this pile of people be writhing about, BURNING for eternity?
If so… WHY?
What the hell could anyone ever do, to deserve such a thing?
I mean, already it is nuts, to me.
I mean… to the narrator!

But, incidentally, if we are going to be biblical about it at all, hell [Hades] is not even the WORST place that the unforgiven will end up in! Because, according to Rev.20:14, there will even come a time when [and I quote]… “death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.”
A second death.
Like the first one was not bad enough!
Then for severe clarity, in case there is any confusion, the next verse says, “All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire.”
A LAKE… → of fire.
So, this is some sort of huge molten lava pit.
But prior to this, the damned are being burnt up in a kind of lesser fire of sorts, this being "Hades" or "hell".
This is the portion of eternity that the poem concerns itself with.
Apparently, this is happening right now, as you read.
Dead, [but revived so they can experience it better] people are seriously burning up in this place of torment called Hades.

So, back to the poem, Levels.

The narrator is just trying to be practical about it.
To put some concreteness to his wondering.
To use the very thing he is not supposed to be using when discussing matters of faith…. his MIND!
So he illegally wonders….
If this place of torment is going on, there must be some tiered effect to it, some design. In order to get the best method of burning accomplished, there should be some thought put into it. [If this sounds way too bizarre, consider for a moment all of the planning that went into the crematoria ovens of Auschwitz and elsewhere, not so long ago. Committees involved. Scientists consulted, engineers sitting at long tables, all trying to invent the best ways to burn people].
But here, in the poem, it is God doing the planning and building.
This is what the author of the poem wants the reader to consider, while reading it.

I don’t know about you, but when I am roasting a weiner on the end of a switch, or a marshmallow for that matter, I don’t put it directly in the flames, but sort of hover it somewhere above…. where the best heat is. And this heat is not only more hot, but it is more controllable. One can observe what is really happening to the object being fried.
The narrator thinks this is what hell is like. Or must be like.

The Bible is quite clear that when it comes to final judgment, there is no such thing as gradation of sin, really. If you don’t make it in to heaven, break out the asbestos underwear! And, as we see in the above verse from Revelation, the person’s real crime is not having their name in that book!
So, if you end up in hell, it matters not whether you have been the worst person ever to live on earth, or the 60 millionth worse. It matters not, which you are. You’re on fire now!

The poem’s narrator is saying that there must be levels, not only because of the properties of heat, but because of the different ways in which living people must have merited their enrollment in the program!

He’s asking, “What kind of a God would have designed such a place?”

And he is wanting the reader to conclude with him that God never did design such a place, but man, in his abysmal ignorance of what happens after death, did.
Those who not only wrote the Bible, but also designed countless other mythological systems, have invented such a place.

To the poet, the most important line is the last one, and the most important form of punctuation, is the comma found after the word “controlled.”
The reason for this comma is that the poet wants the reader to stop and consider whether they really want to believe in a “God” that would design hell.
Controlled → [by God]…. “long term roasting means levels.”
Means considered, measured, → intention.
Means that this God of infinite love is right now presiding over the agonies of countless people, perishing in eternal flames, with no hope of reprieve or escape.
Oh yeah, there’s a timer on this oven, but God has set it to FOREVER!

The lines, “Think about it” and, “It stands to reason” are pleas.
Hoping, that if you think about it at all, you will find that it does not stand to reason.

Merisi's Vienna For Beginners said...

I shall be back with another comment (not a threat!), for the moment this:
1) I swear I have been through various levels of hell, and I don't believe in "it" either. ;-)))
2) Somebody else's hell may well be paradise for me (or viceversa).
3) Remember that guy who, after being officially approved to go to Heaven, realises the company he's going to be in, asks Saint Peter to please be sent straight to hell instead?
Have a great Sunday!

Cold Molasses said...

Wow...quite the poem and an even more intricate explanation...would never have gotten some of those nuances.

Hell of a poem...really!

Soph said...

Many eyes go through the meadow…but we don't all see the same thing.

Your comments on your work, cip, and the responses you have brought out of your faithful readers reflect characteristics I find descriptive of the power of a good poem: its ability to show us the feelings and ideas that lie within the writer, but also its ability to find and help clarify the feelings and ideas that lie within us.

Sometimes they diverge.

I saw most of the nuances you mention in your explication. I don’t know whether that is comforting or not: it might say as much about where my head is as it does about the poem itself, you know?

As a reader, I have always had trouble keeping myself out of the mix.
I am constantly dancing between what I think the author is attempting to give me and how I am responding to it on a personal level.
It’s complicated, this sorting out process.

I like reading poetry because I like re-visiting and digging into subtext of a compressed, intense written form. I think you offer your reader plenty of opportunity to do this. It’s not all sitting there on the surface, waiting to be picked off like so many sun-ripened tomatoes. But it’s there, sometimes on another part of the vine.

Regular readers of your blog have a certain vision of who they think you are, a fact that would influence to some degree their reading of this poem. For me, anyhow, when I read any work by an author I like, I am influenced by what has gone before. I have built up a certain level of expectation (of tone, for example) that cannot help but influence my reading.

I see Collins in you too.
What I mean by that is that you write deceptively simple (my favorite kind), sometimes superficially humorous stuff that often has a neat underlying theme or seriousness. I don't think of it as hidden exactly….it may just be shy.
Not brazen, pushy, presumptuous.

Thus, well worth the closer, contemplative look.

I’d call "Levels" rather playful – one of the highest compliments that I think one can pay to the written word. (Consider Shakespeare and his endless punning.) But calling it playful does not mean that it isn't serious. Some of my most pointed conversations with people have been playful on the surface...but dead serious underneath.

Even though the topic can’t get much more serious (What kind of god would engage in such deliberate torture?) the narrator is musing upon it in an almost absurd way as he is boggled in his attempts to apply reasoning to something that some would insist is unfathomable - yet somehow CERTAIN!
In fact, even in your [explication]analogy of roasting a marshmallow – which is an apt, but also a rather whimsical, comparison - there is an element of the jokester.

Add to all my rumblings here the idea that the very topic of hell is something that many people tend to joke about (perhaps somewhat nervously?) and you have an interesting mix of background even before the first line of your poem is read.

Robert Frost said that a poem “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” To date that remains one of the most succinct praises I believe one could attribute to a written work of art.

The delight is in the form it takes: it is in the sheer joy that the writer so obviously had in writing it -- in "fooling with words," as Bill Moyers says -- and in the connection that the reader experiences when reading it.

It’s a partnership between those two living, separate, yet together, beings.

May it continue to thrive here on bookpuddle.