Here we have yet another poem that borrows its title from a fellow literary work (Hamlet in this case). And much like the author of that esteemed work, the events in our lives shape who we are. If we are writers, it is nearly impossible to not have our work be influenced by profound experiences. Anthony Hecht was an acclaimed poet who lived, and served, through World War II. The poem “It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It.”, addresses the difference between fairy tales and reality.

In it, he juxtaposes the tales told to his children, with their formulaic good/evil dichotomies, and sad truths about the real world. Having helped liberate a concentration camp during his time at war, it is not surprising that he notices situations that don’t play out like the stories we tell. With biblical imagery and narratives, he questions why such terrible things are allowed to happen to innocent people, if there is theoretically someone who could save them.


“It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It.”

Tonight my children hunch
Toward their Western, and are glad
As, with a Sunday punch,
The Good casts out the Bad.

And in their fairy tales
The warty giant and witch
Get sealed in doorless jails
And the match-girl strikes it rich.

I’ve made myself a drink.
The giant and witch are set
To bust out of the clink
When my children have gone to bed.

All frequencies are loud
With signals of despair;
In flash and morse they crowd
The rondure of the air.

For the wicked have grown strong,
Their numbers mock at death,
Their cow brings forth its young,
Their bull engendereth.

Their very fund of strength,
Satan, bestrides the globe;
He stalks its breadth and length
And finds out even Job.

Yet by quite other laws
My children make their case;
Half God, half Santa Claus,
But with my voice and face,

A hero comes to save
The poorman, beggarman, thief,
And make the world behave
And put an end to grief.

And that their sleep be sound
I say this childermas
Who could not, at one time,
Have saved them from the gas.


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