Is there such a thing as a bad reading of a text ?
I rather think there is…..Here is a reading of Duffy’s famous erotic Upstairs Downstairs ( and in milady’s chamber) romp, reduced to sliced white bread banality on a revision site. As daring as last week’s Daily Mail.
Warming Her Pearls
for Judith Radstone
Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I´ll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,
resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.
She´s beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.
I dust her shoulders with a rabbit´s foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.
Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head…. Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way
she always does…. And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.
The central relationship in the poem is between a servant speaker and her employer, maid and mistress. The maid performs humble tasks such as wearing her mistress’ pearls. The word which shows the mistress’ relationship to the maid is ‘bids’; it means she orders the maid to do tasks. The maid prepares her mistress for her nightly social outings. She performs tasks of an intimate nature for her mistress, such as powdering her shoulders. Her mistress relates to her from a sense of power. The necklace she warms for the mistress is thus a sort of rope. But by the end of the poem this so-called rope is also a means to a secret revenge the maid gains in this relationship. The maid may not speak to her mistress as she performs her duties. She cannot communicate to her mistress the damage she knows her body heat is causing the mistress at the parties she attends. The maid is so fascinated by her mistress that she even imagines her undressing. Meanwhile the mistress goes out to great social events but remains a loner. She cannot establish relationships with the men she meets because of the smell of the servant off her white stones. The mistress fails to find love—due to the fact that she carries in her pearls the body odour of her maid. At the end of the poem the maid secretly burns with rage or jealousy at her mistress. But she also burns with satisfaction at the secret revenge she is gaining on her mistress.
Oh dear. This seems to miss the point? Perhaps they spent too long replanting geraniums.
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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