Study Guide

A Season in Hell Section 3: Night in Hell

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Section 3: Night in Hell

Lines 69-72

I have swallowed a famous gulp of poison – Thrice blessed be the thought that came to me! – My guts are burning. The venom's violence wracks my limbs; deforms me, fells me. I'm dying of thirst; I'm stifling, unable to cry out. It's hell, the everlasting torment! See how the flames rise up! I'm burning in the proper manner. Well then, demon!
I've glimpsed a conversion to goodness and joy, salvation. Let me describe the vision, the air of hell suffers no hymns! It was of millions of enchanting creatures, sweet spiritual harmony, strength and peace, noble ambitions, who knows what?
Noble ambitions!
There's life yet! – What if damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is truly damned, is he not? I think myself in hell, therefore I am. It's the ratification of the catechism. I'm the slave of my baptism. Parents, you caused my wretchedness and your own. Poor innocent! – Hell can't touch pagans – There's life yet! Later the delights of damnation will deepen. A crime, quick, let me fall into the void, in the name of human law.

  • The speaker drinks poison and "dies." It must not have worked, though, because he goes on to descriptively tell us about his death, and how the poison affects him.
  • Now we get to Hell (well, our speaker does anyway). He finds himself burning there after drinking the liquid. (Or at least drinking the liquid makes him feel like he's in Hell.)
  • In a weird reversal, though, he describes a sort of heaven-like place that he glimpses.
  • Now he's afraid that his damnation might be eternal, and he blames it on his parents for his baptism and religious upbringing. If he were a pagan (i.e., a non-believer) he wouldn't be in Hell.
  • That makes a kind of weird sense, if you think about it.

Lines 73-74

Quiet, quiet there! ... Here's shame and reproach: Satan, who says that the fire is ignoble, that my anger is fearfully stupid. – Enough! ... Of the errors whispered to me, magic, false perfumes, puerile music. – And to think that I grasp truth, see justice: my judgement is sane and sound, I am ready for perfection… Pride – the skin of my head dries up. Pity! Lord, I'm afraid. I thirst, such thirst! Ah, childhood, grass, the rain, the lake over stones, the moonlight when the clock struck twelve! …the devil's in the belfry, at that hour. Mary! Holy Virgin! – Horror at my stupidity.
Back there, aren't there honest souls, who wish me well? ... Come…I've a pillow over my mouth; they can't hear me, they're phantoms. Besides, no one ever thinks of others. Let no one come near me. I smell of scorching, that's certain.

  • Our speaker is now in Hell. He's feeling guilt ("reproach") and shame.
  • He's also seems to be going back over his life, and mentally tallying up all of the errors of his ways.
  • It's as though his life is flashing before his eyes. He thinks back to his childhood and memories from when he was still living.
  • He wonders if there are any good people back in the land of the living who wish him well. If there are, they are just ghosts, and he can't contact them anyway because he's unable to talk.
  • Besides, he is burning (what with being in Hell and all), so they won't come near him. Can you blame them?

Lines 75-78

The hallucinations are innumerable. That's what has always been wrong with me, in fact: no belief in history, obliviousness to principles. I'll be quiet about it: poets and visionaries would be jealous. I am a thousand times richer, let's be as miserly as the sea.
See there! The clock of life has just stopped. I am no longer in the world – Theology is no joke, hell is certainly
down below – and heaven above – Ecstasy, nightmare, slumber in a nest of flames.
What tricks while waiting in the countryside…Satan, Ferdinand, runs rife with wild seed…Jesus walks on the purple briars, without bending them…Jesus once walked on the troubled waters. The lantern showed him to us standing, pale with brown tresses, on the flank of an emerald wave…
I shall unveil all the mysteries: mysteries religious or natural, death, birth, future, past, cosmogony, nothingness. I am a master of phantasmagoria.

  • Well, our speaker is now seeing things (continuing the visionary or surreal feel of the previous chapter).
  • In fact, he's having such hallucinations that visionaries (like Joan of Arc in the last section) would be jelly of him.
  • He is well and truly in Hell now, and acknowledges that his "clock of life" has stopped. He's crossed from the land of the living into this bleak afterlife where everything is in flames, like a frantic nightmare.
  • In Hell, he's apparently able to see visions of Jesus walking on the water, as well as Satan and Ferdinand (the patron of Christopher Columbus—hit up "Shout Outs" for more).
  • From his new home down below, the speaker will unveil all of the mysteries of the beyond. He's got a newfound power, describing himself as a "master of phantasmagoria." In other words, he's got supremacy over random strange or ghostly images and visions.
  • At this point, we totes believe him.

Lines 79-84

Listen! ...
I possess every talent! – There is no one here, yet there is someone: I don't wish to spill my treasure – Shall it be n**** chants, the dance of houris? Shall I vanish, dive deep in search of
the ring? Shall I? I will make gold, cures.
Have faith then in me, faith soothes, guides, heals. Come, all you – even the little children – let me console you, may a heart go out to you – the marvellous heart! – Poor men, workers! I don't ask for prayer; with your trust alone, I'll be happy.
– And let us consider myself. It makes me regret the world very little. I was lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but sweet follies, it's regrettable.
Bah! Let us make every possible grimace.
Decidedly, we are beyond the world. No more sounds. My sense of touch: gone. Ah, my chateau, my Saxony, my rank of willows! Evenings, dawns, nights, days…How weary I am!

  • With this catalog of exotic, otherworldly images (the treasure, the "n****" other, the "houris", the ring that he'll search for), the speaker describes Hell as a sort of marvelous, fantastical realm. It's also more than a little racist. (Check out "Themes: Foreignness and the 'Other'" for more.)
  • From his new vantage point, he wants to console people—children, poor men, and the peasant classes.
  • He now seems to regret his previous actions less (maybe the "errors" he laments in the previous section). His previous "errors"—although "regrettable"—are now "sweet follies," which sounds much better.
  • No longer in the material world, he is unable to hear or touch anything, and his home in Saxony (a region in modern Germany, from where the "Saxons" got their name) is long gone. That's too bad. The "rank of willows" creates a nice, homey, protective scene.
  • Time seems to go by very quickly, and (once again) he becomes wearied. This dude needs a serious nap.

Lines 85-88

I ought to have a hell for my anger, a hell for my pride, – and a hell for my caresses; a concert of hells.
I'm dying of lassitude. It's the tomb; I'm going to the worms, horror of horrors! Satan, you trickster, you want to destroy me with your enchantments. I demand, I demand one prick of the fork, one drop of the fire!
Ah, to rise again to life! To set eyes on our deformities. And that poison, that kiss a thousand times damned! My weakness, the world's cruelty! My God, have pity, hide me, I can't defend myself! – I'm hidden yet un-hidden.
It's the fire that flares again with its damned soul.

  • Taking a page out of Dante's book, our speaker longs for a different kind of Hell for each of his sins. But these Hells would work together as a sort of concert.
  • Instead of burning in fiery flames, though, the speaker discovers that Hell is just…pretty boring. And if you've ever been to the DMV, you can sympathize.
  • The "lassitude" (a nice Victorian-esque way of saying "lacking energy") is what's destroying him, and at this point he's dying to get poked by Satan's proverbial pitchfork and to be burned with fire. Hey, at least he wouldn't be bored anymore.
  • In an overwrought way, he now wishes he could undo his action. He curses the drink of poison he took, as well as his weakness and how cruel the world is.
  • His soul won't stop the fire from flaring up again. We get the impression this "fire" may be his memories of his previous life. Let's read on and see.

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