A Driscollian Hermeneutic: "Sweeney Erect"


In an offhand conversation with my agent earlier, we were remarking on this post from Mark Driscoll. You don’t have to read the whole 4300 words, but it’s worth having a look at part 3 and Driscoll’s literal reading of Ezekiel’s preaching to dry bones. Apparently, it means that zombies are real.

I’m not going to bore you with a reason as to why Driscoll is wrong here (because, come on, Zombies? In the Bible?), but I will note that metaphor and simile seem lost on the man. I mean, we knew as much when he interpreted Song of Songs to be about wives giving their husbands blowjobs. But I guess I never realized the depth (or is it shallowness?) of his literalism. And when he sees metaphor, he seems to always see the one that couldn’t be more wrong.

As Hannah and I were discussing this post and this idea, a thought occurred to me: if Driscoll is this bad at interpreting ancient Scripture that he reads zombies and blowjobs into prophetic works, what, then, would he do with poets actually influenced by Freud, religion, sex, and Enlightenment philosophy?

And thus, “Mark Driscoll Reads the Classics” was born.

Poetry’s never been my strong suit, but I’ve a feeling that it isn’t Driscoll’s either. So in the interest of parodying both the stuffy literary criticism (which I actually love, considering I have a degree in English Literature) and Driscoll’s literalism, this (maybe series?) is born out of a desire to see what happens when you misapply and misinterpret things through the way Driscoll sees the world. This is what happens when you approached the text with a desire to make it say what you want it to say, rather than letting the text speak for itself (and doing research to see what others have said).

So here it is: a Driscollian reading of "Sweeney Erect" by T.S. Eliot, a poem that actually is about sex and Calvinism. "Driscoll's" comments are in italics.

And the trees about me, Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks Groan with continual surges; and behind me Make all a desolation. Look, look, wenches!

Okay, it sounds like we’re in an apocalyptic waste land here: desolation. And of course, the only thing left after an apocalypse will be the bad women – those wenches! So there’s our setting.

Paint me a cavernous waste shore Cast in the unstilled Cyclades, Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.

I looked up “Cyclades,” and according to my trusty copy of Wikipedia, it’s a group of islands in Greece. So obviously, this is a reference to the Greek New Testament and the “old” philosophy falling apart because it is apart from God. And it’s Greek.

Display me Aeolus above Reviewing the insurgent gales Which tangle Ariadne’s hair And swell with haste the perjured sails.

At first I thought Aeolus meant “areola,” and thought we were diving into sex a bit soon (I mean, the poem IS called “Sweeney ERECT”) but apparently it refers to the ancient Greek God of the winds. So clearly, this is a reference to the ancient philosophies of Greece being “full of wind.” I mean, Socrates was kind of a windbag apart from God, am I right?

And Ariadne? Wasn’t she that girl in Inception? Oh, Wikipedia says she’s associated with mazes and labyrinths. Well, obviously! She’s a woman!

Morning stirs the feet and hands (Nausicaa and Polypheme). Gesture of orang-outang Rises from the sheets in steam.

Alrighty! Sheets and steam! Obviously, sex. Totally. So Nausicaa and Polypheme are getting down! Nausicaa is an evil woman from the Odyssey, and Polypheme is a Cyclops, a one-eyed monster? Obviously a metaphor for penis. This poem is about sluts! It's warning us about getting involved with sluts. Sluts will bring on the apocalypse, and we're seeing the beginnings of it in our culture already.

This withered root of knots of hair Slitted below and gashed with eyes, This oval O cropped out with teeth: The sickle motion from the thighs

Wow, this TS Eliot was a sick bastard. This is obviously unholy sex in an apocalyptic waste land – it’s like our modern culture! Teenage girls running around with their Polyphemes, getting pregnant and chasing vampire demons. Clearly, Eliot’s talking about demonic images and orgies that will happen in the end times.

Jackknifes upward at the knees Then straightens out from heel to hip Pushing the framework of the bed And clawing at the pillow slip.

Whoa now. Mr. Eliot, I don’t like your pornography, sir.

Sweeney addressed full length to shave Broadbottomed, pink from nape to base, Knows the female temperament And wipes the suds around his face.

Okay, this is just silly. No metrosexual, chickified shaving of … parts … on my watch.

(The lengthened shadow of a man Is history, said Emerson Who had not seen the silhouette Of Sweeney straddled in the sun.)

Emerson is obvious a reference here to another poet. But I don’t like this idea of Sweeney – a man – straddled. Clearly, in this apocalyptic wasteland, women take control even in the bedroom, and this does not bode well for the males of the species. This is what we’re headed for, men! Do you want to be dominated like this, men?

Tests the razor on his leg Waiting until the shriek subsides. The epileptic on the bed Curves backward, clutching at her sides.

These “shrieks” are obviously, inhuman, demonic shrieks, because everyone knows that women only shriek in porn or if they’re feminist harpies. Epileptic here is a reference to a disease, a disorder – in this apocalyptic world, Eliot imagines a world turned upside down. Women leading outside the God-ordained order, turning men into women (Sweeney is shaving his legs!), and seeking after only their pleasure!

The ladies of the corridor Find themselves involved, disgraced, Call witness to their principles And deprecate the lack of taste

And even in the midst of this women-power fantasy, the women are unhappy! See! Go outside the ordained order, and God will make you unhappy.

Observing that hysteria Might easily be misunderstood; Mrs. Turner intimates It does the house no sort of good.

I think I like this Mrs. Turner – she knows what’s up. She knows women going out of line is bad for them. It does the house – obviously, “the body” – no good!

But Doris, towelled from the bath, Enters padding on broad feet, Bringing sal volatile And a glass of brandy neat.

But no one cares – Doris wanders about naked, tempting men, bringing on the apocalypse.



1. This is a parody of how I imagine a caricature of Driscoll would read a poem. It is meant as parody, and is therefore protected speech. Shut up, Mars Hill lawyers.

2. A note of apology to my former professors who taught me in literature and exegesis classes: I am so sorry. This is intentionally bad literary criticism and it pains me to write it. You did not do a bad job with me, I promise!

3. Graphic designed by the amazing Jason Boyett. Y’all should get to know him. He’s awesome.