Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell

Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell Poems

Still falls the Rain---
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss---
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.
...

WHEN cold December
Froze to grisamber
The jangling bells on the sweet rose-trees--
Then fading slow
...

BENEATH the flat and paper sky
The sun, a demon's eye,
Glowed through the air, that mask of glass;
All wand'ring sounds that pass
...

JANE, Jane,
Tall as a crane,
The morning light creaks down again;
...

ACROSS the flat and the pastel snow
Two people go . . . . 'And do you remember
When last we wandered this shore?' . . . 'Ah no!
For it is cold-hearted December.'
...

LOVELY Semiramis
Closes her slanting eyes:
Dead is she long ago.
From her fan, sliding slow,
...

SAID the Lion to the Lioness-'When you are amber dust,-
No more a raging fire like the heat of the Sun
(No liking but all lust)-
...

CAME the great Popinjay
Smelling his nosegay:
In cages like grots
The birds sang gavottes.
...

Bells of gray crystal
Break on each bough--
The swans' breath will mist all
The cold airs now.
...

Metallic waves of people jar
Through crackling green toward the bar
...

Within your magic web of hair, lies furled
The fire and splendour of the ancient world;
The dire gold of the comet's wind-blown hair;
...

Across the fields as green as spinach,
Cropped as close as Time to Greenwich,
...

The floors are slippery with blood:
The world gyrates too. God is good
That while His wind blows out the light
...

14.

Enobles the heart and the eyes,
and unveils the meaning of all things
upon which the heart and the eyes dwell.
...

The carriage brushes through the bright
Leaves (violent jets from life to light);
Strong polished speed is plunging, heaves
...

Lovely Semiramis
Closes her slanting eyes:
Dead is she long ago,
From her fan sliding slow
...

Mid this hot green glowing gloom
A word falls with a raindrop's boom...
...

Do not take a bath in Jordan, Gordon,
On the holy Sabbath, on the peaceful day! '
Said the huntsman, playing on his old bagpipe,
Boring to death the pheasant and the snipe
...

Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell Biography

Edith Sitwell was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, the only daughter of the eccentric Sir George Sitwell, 4th Baronet, of Renishaw Hall; he was an expert on genealogy and landscaping. Her mother was the former Lady Ida Emily Augusta Denison, a daughter of the Earl of Londesborough and a granddaughter of Henry Somerset, 7th Duke of Beaufort. She claimed a descent through female lines from the Plantagenets.

Childhood

Sitwell had two younger brothers, Osbert (1892-1969) and Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988) both distinguished authors, well-known literary figures in their own right, and long-term collaborators. Sacheverell married a Canadian woman, Georgia Doble, in 1925 and moved to Weston Hall in Northamptonshire.

Her relationship with her parents was stormy at best, not least because her father made her undertake a "cure" for her supposed spinal deformation--involving locking her into an iron frame. In her later autobiography, she said that her parents had always been strangers to her.

Adulthood

In 1912, 25-year-old Sitwell moved to a small, shabby fourth-floor flat in Pembridge Mansions, Bayswater, which she shared with Helen Rootham (1875-1938), her governess since 1903.

Edith never married. However, it is claimed that in 1927 she fell in love with the homosexual Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. The relationship with Tchelitchew lasted until 1928; the same year when Helen Rootham underwent operations for cancer, eventually becoming an invalid. In 1932, Rootham and Sitwell moved to Paris, where they lived with Rootham’s younger sister, Evelyn Wiel. Rootham died of spinal cancer in 1938.

Sitwell's mother died in 1937. Sitwell did not attend the funeral because of her displeasure with her parents during her childhood.

During World War II, Sitwell returned from France and retired to Renishaw with her brother Osbert and his lover, David Horner. She wrote under the light of oil lamps when the lights of England were out of service. She knitted clothes for their friends who served in the army. One of the beneficiaries was young Alec Guinness, who received a pair of seaboot stockings.

The poems she wrote during the war brought her back before a public. They include Street Songs (1942), The Song of the Cold (1945) and The Shadow of Cain (1947), all of which were much praised. Still Falls the Rain, about the London blitz, remains perhaps her best-known poem (it was set to music by Benjamin Britten as Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain).

In 1943, her father died in Switzerland, his wealth depleted. In 1948, a reunion with Tchelitchew, whom she had not seen since before the war, went badly.

In 1948 Sitwell toured the United States with her brothers, reciting her poetry and, notoriously, giving a reading of Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene. Her poetry recitals were always occasions; she made recordings of her poems, including two recordings of Façade, the first with Constant Lambert as co-narrator, and the second with Peter Pears.

Later Life and Death

Tchelitchew died in April 1957. Her brother Osbert died of Parkinson's disease, diagnosed in 1950. Sitwell became a Dame Commander (DBE) in 1954. In 1955, Sitwell converted to Roman Catholicism.

Sitwell wrote two books about Queen Elizabeth I of England, Fanfare for Elizabeth (1946) and The Queens and the Hive (1962). She always claimed that she wrote prose simply for money and both these books were extremely successful, as were her English Eccentrics (1933) and Victoria of England (1936).

Around 1957 she was confined to a wheelchair. Her last poetry reading was in 1962. She died of cerebral haemorrhage at St. Thomas’s Hospital on December 9, 1964 at the age of 77.

Sitwell's papers are held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Best Poem Of Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell

Still Falls The Rain

Still falls the Rain---
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss---
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat
In the Potter's Field, and the sound of the impious feet

On the Tomb:
Still falls the Rain

In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us---
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain---
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man's wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,---those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,
The wounds of the baited bear---
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh... the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain---
Then--- O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune---
See, see where Christ's blood streames in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree

Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world,---dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar's laurel crown.

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain---
"Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee."

Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell Comments

Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell Quotes

I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty.... But I am too busy thinking about myself.

Vulgarity is, in reality, nothing but a modern, chic, pert descendant of the goddess Dullness.

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