Who are you? Why do you not let me live
As I please? And how could your caress, so rough,
Be kinder than my smooth alternative?
Your steel-brush strokes are forcing me to slough,
Daily, my fleshy growths of appetite,
But still they come; I cannot have enough.
I would forever scratch my itches, light
At first, then harder at the thickened sore;
But you would give me radical delight,
Gouging my itches till I have no more.
“The Pleasure Principle” is published here with the permission of Southern Humanities Review, where the poem first appeared in Spring 1974.
In this poem, sinful desires are characterized as skin sores whose itchiness is temporarily relieved when scratched—but the scratching also makes the sores become irritated and enlarged and even more vile-looking, and the itch comes back not too long after.
The speaker addresses God, first in a posture of defensiveness. God has presumably broken into his conscience, convicting him of sin, and he responds with a string of accusatory questions to the effect of, “Who do you think you are, coming into my life, telling me what I can and can’t do? How could dealing with a constant itch be more satisfying than giving in and scratching?” Continue reading ““The Pleasure Principle” by Raymond Oliver”→