10.19.2009

Scorch the Sheets

I’ve been thinking about Joseph Deumer’s comment on my interpretaton of the last line of Don Paterson's 'Wind Tunnel’ - “I'm sort of sorry to learn that "scorch the sheets" is a slangy phrase for sex. I had in mind something closer to that cold pentecostal fire you mention earlier having simply consumed the poet without even waking his wife.” – and have come to the conclusion that he has a very good point. The phrase “scorch the sheets” certainly refers to the sexual act and I think Paterson means the reader’s mind to turn that way, and not just because -as my daughter told me she learned in English lit today –“if you don’t know, sex is always a good guess.” However, the grammar of the second half of the line – “you do not scorch the sheets, or wake your wife” – belies the obvious interpretation. “Scorch the sheets” has no onanistic secondary meaning that I know of. It seems to refer exclusively to super heated activity between consenting adults and, one would assume, would require waking one’s partner. So that “or” necessitates a rethink in mid line and Joseph’s suggestion seems to be the right way to go. Acts 2; 1-4 makes it clear that after the sound of a mighty wind filled the house the disciples saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and “it sat upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It all seems like a fair description of a poetic epiphany and makes perfect sense in the context Paterson provides. So why didn’t I think of it?

2 comments:

Henry Gould said...

Interesting....
If you read the phrase as simply a metaphor for sex, then "you do not scorch the sheets, or wake your wife" is oddly redundant. It's awkward. But if you take the metaphor literally - that is, the speaker, by way of the Pentecostal spirit, is metamorphosed into a levitating ball of fire - then the line, as you say, makes more sense...

Joseph Duemer said...

Thanks for this. Sorry I missed it earlier -- busy semester.