Biography of Victoria Sackville-West
English poet and novelist, born into an old aristocratic family, proprietors of Knole House in Kent. Vita Sackville-West wrote about the Kentish countryside and she was the chief model for Orlando in Virginia Woolf's novel of that same title from 1928. Sackville-West's best known poem, THE LAND, was awarded the Hawthorne Prize in 1927.
The country habit has me by the heart,
For he's bewitched for ever who has seen,
Not with his eyes but with his vision,
Flow down the woods and stipple leaves
('Winter' from The Land)
Victoria Mary Sackville-West was the only child of Lionel Edward, third Baron of Sackville, and Victoria Josepha Dolores Catalina Sackville-West, his first cousin and the illegitimate daughter of the diplomat Sir Lionel Sackville-West. She was educated privately. As a child she started to write poetry, writing her first ballads at the age of 11. "I don't remember either my father or my mother very vividly at that time, except that Dada used to take me for terribly long walks and talk to me about science, principally Darwin, and I liked him a great deal better than mother, of whose quick temper I was frightened." (from Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicolson, 1973) Vita's mother considered her ugly - she was bony, she had long legs, straight hair, and she wanted to be as boyish as possible.
Between 1906 and 1910 Sackville-West produced eight novels and five plays. CHATTERTON, A DRAMA IN THREE ACTS, was privately printed and appeared in 1909. In 1913 she married the diplomat and critic Harold Nicolson, with whom she lived a long time in Persia and then at the Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.
Sackville-West's father died in 1928 and his brother became the fourth Baron Sackville, inheriting Knole. Her husband decided in 1929 to resign from the foreign service and devote himself to writing. They purchased Sissinghurst Castle, a near-derelict house, and started to restore it. In the 1930s Sackville-West published The Edwardians (1930), All Passion Spent(1931), and Family History (1932) which were bestsellers and portrayed English upper-class manners and life. Pepita (1937) depicted the story of her grandmother, who was a Spanish dancer. Her passionate gardening was rewarded in 1955 by the Royal Horticultural Society. Sackville-West also wrote several books about gardening and kept a regular column at the Observer from 1946.
In 1946 Sackville-West was made a Companion of Honour for her services to literature. She died of cancer on June 2, 1962. Harold Nicolson died six years later. Sackville-West believed in equal rights for women. She is best remembered for her novels but her most enduring work was perhaps the garden at Sissinghurst Castle, evidently the joint creation of Harold and Vita, and as Nigel Nicolson suggested the true Portrait of their marriage. Nicolson published in 1973 a book, Portrait of a Marriage, which was based on her parents' journals and notes, and described their private life and marriage. The book was made into a television mini-series in 1990, starring Cathryn Harrison, Janet McTeer and David Haigh.
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Victoria Sackville-West Poems
Days I Enjoy
Days I enjoy are days when nothing happens, When I have no engagements written on my block, When no one comes to disturb my inward peace, When no one comes to take me away from myself
And So It Ends
And so it ends, We who were lovers may be friends. I have some weeks in which to steel My heart and teach myself to feel
I saw within the wheelwright’s shed The big round cartwheels, blue and red; A plough with blunted share; A blue tin jug; a broken chair;
Cisterns and stones; the fig-tree in the wall Casts down her shadow, ashen as her boughs, Across the road, across the thick white dust. Down from the hill the slow white oxen crawl,
Yes, they were kind exceedingly; most mild Even in indignation, taking by the hand One that obeyed them mutely, as a child
A Saxon Song
Tools with the comely names, Mattock and scythe and spade, Couth and bitter as flames, Clean, and bowed in the blade,-
Leopards At Knole
Leopards on the gable-ends, Leopards on the painted stair, Stiff the blazoned shield they bear, Or and gules, a bend of vair,
The Greater Cats
The greater cats with golden eyes Stare out between the bars. Deserts are there, and the different skies, And night with different stars.
Beechwoods At Knole
How do I love you, beech-trees, in the autumn, Your stone-grey columns a cathedral nave Processional above the earth's brown glory!
What time the meanest brick and stone Take on a beauty not their own, And past the flaw of builded wood Shines the intention whole and good,
She was wearing the coral taffeta trousers Someone had brought her from Ispahan, And the little gold coat with pomegranate blossoms,
If I had only loved your flesh And careless damned your soul to Hell, I might have laughed and loved afresh,
When little lights in little ports come out, Quivering down through water with the stars, And all the fishing fleet of slender spars
So well she knew them both! yet as she came Into the room, and heard their speech Of tragic meshes knotted with her name,
The Greater Cats
The greater cats with golden eyes
Stare out between the bars.
Deserts are there, and the different skies,
And night with different stars.
They prowl the aromatic hill,
And mate as fiercely as they kill,
To roam, to live, to drink their fill;
But this beyond their wit know I:
Man loves a little, and for long shall die.