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Faith in Hell
for Margaret Atwood,
seer of hells, earths, and heavens,
on her 80th birthday
They lost faith in hell, which certainly
is a myth. For there is nowhere
that a world all caverns, lakes and rivers of fire
can be found, with halls and ditches
housing an endless variety of tortures,
each appropriate to the life
of one of us. And certainly there’s no real place
where we’re granted eternal youth
of a sort, so that we can burn moment after moment
with the full agony of the first lick of flame.
Some of them still believed in what they called
the truth of myth: that hell,
for instance, is an image
of the eternal seriousness of our faults and crimes.
But this seriousness itself, they said,
disrobed of images, is more horrible
than any story. As they considered this
they went to sleep. Whereas in hell
there is no sleep. Far away, for the time being,
were infants the bombing kept awake all day and night.
—A. F. Moritz