Sunday, 30 April 2017

#23: Devil

This miserable creature howling on the end of the chain is, I assume, Satan, or at least a devil. His eyes are empty hollows and his face seems to have been damaged, peeled. He is utterly anonymous, stripped naked, with not even a hair. Contempt for him is shown in the cheap wood he is made of and in the thin, mocked-up wings. Whichever saint is standing on his back is, by contrast, fully clothed, coloured, rounded and larger, a person.

I found myself near this sculpture while listening to a concert in a local church and found myself looking at it repeatedly. While not exactly finding it distressing, I was disturbed by its cruelty, and the fact that such an image could be thought acceptable or even inspirational. Thank goodness most of us, both individually and as societies, have moved beyond such superstition-fuelled hatred. Actually, not thank goodness, thank – the development of rational thought since the Enlightenment, principally I suppose.

The sculpture made many different things spring into my mind – Blake’s famous comment that Paradise Lost shows Milton ‘was of the Devil’s party without knowing it’; Blake’s own puzzling poem To the Accuser Who Is God of This World which begins ‘truly my Satan thou art but a dunce’, and the witch in the musical Wicked – not wicked, but misunderstood.

I’ll finish with a poem by John Agard:

On First-Name Terms

Hey. None of this Beelzebub business.
Lighten up. No more Prince of Darkness
and all that Devil’s Advocate
kind of stuff. I’m your mate.
It’s all right to call me Dev
and I’ll call you Les or Mags or Trev.
Formality stinks. Don’t say evil. Say Ev.

© John Agard from The Devil’s Pulpit (Bloodaxe Books) via The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems ed. Wendy Cope (Faber & Faber).