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The poem “This is Going to Hurt Just a Little Bit” is a witty pictorial depiction of the poet’s experience while in the dentist’s chair. The poem looks at an unpleasant experience from an unusual perspective.
About the Author
Frederic Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971) was an American poet, well known for his humorous poems. His poems are noted for their surprising pun and comic effect when words are deliberately misspelt. The exaggerated expressions he uses give a special charm to his poems.
The poem’s theme is humour. The poet uses humour as a defence mechanism to tackle his fear of sitting in a dental chair.
Stanza I – IV
One thing I like less than most things is sitting in a dentist chair with my mouth wide open. And that I will never have to do it again is a hope that I am against hope hopen. Because some tortures are physical and some are mental, But the one that is both is dental. It is hard to be self-possessed With your jaw digging into your chest. So hard to retain your calm When your fingernails are making serious alterations in your life line or love line or some other important line in your palm; So hard to give your usual effect of cheery benignity When you know your position is one of the two or three in life most lacking in dignity.
The poem is a wordplay of exaggerations and puns while the poet describes the horrors of visiting a dentist. The least favourite thing of the poet is to sit in a dentist’s chair with his mouth open. Each time he hopes it is the last time and he will not have to return to this terrible position.
Tortures are mental and physical but a trip to the dentist exceeds both these tortures. He is unable to compose himself and the anxiety makes him claw his own palms. He humorously adds that him digging his palm alters some aspect of his life, either his mortality or his love life. It is utterly awkward and mortifying for him to be in a position as such.
Stanza V – VII
And your mouth is like a section of road that is being worked on. And it is all cluttered up with stone crushers and concrete mixers and drills and steam rollers and there isn't a nerve in your head that you aren't being irked on. Oh, some people are unfortunate enough to be strung up by thumbs. And others have things done to their gums, And your teeth are supposed to be being polished, But you have reason to believe they are being demolished. And the circumstance that adds most to your terror Is that it's all done with a mirror, Because the dentist may be a bear, or as the Romans used to say, only they were referring to a feminine bear when they said it, an ursa, But all the same how can you be sure when he takes his crowbar in one hand and mirror in the other he won't get mixed up, the way you do when you try to tie a bow tie with the aid of a mirror, and forget that left is right and vice versa?
With all the instruments the dentist is using, the poet compares his mouth to a road being worked on. He is terrified of the fact that dentists use a mirror. He wonders what calamity will befall if the dentist gets confused between left and right as the image gets inverted in mirrors. He even compares the dentist to a bear.
Stanza VIII & IX
And then at last he says That will be all; but it isn't because he then coats your mouth from cellar to roof With something that I suspect is generally used to put a shine on a horse's hoof. And you totter to your feet and think. Well it's all over now and after all it was only this once. And he says come back in three monce. And this, O Fate, is I think the most vicious circle that thou ever sentest, That Man has to go continually to the dentist to keep his teeth in good condition when the chief reason he wants his teeth in good condition is so that he won't have to go to the dentist.
Finally, the dentist says that he is done, but that’s a false hope because then he coats the mouth with something that puts a shine on a horse’s hoof. The dentist then crushes all hope and joy of the patient by asking him to visit again in three months.
Ironically, people go to dentists to maintain their teeth so that they won’t have to visit the dentist! If anything, it is a tedious cycle.