Monday, June 4, 2012

Edith Sitwell

Dame Edith Sitwell (1887–1964) is an influential British poet. She — along with T.S. Eliot — formed the vanguard of modernist poets following World War I. She published the poetry of Wilfred Owen after his death, and befriended young poets, such as Dylan Thomas — helping them to get established.

When Façade — a collection of her poetry set to music by William Walton — was first performed in London in 1923 it was widely dismissed by critics and audiences, including Noel Coward, who walked out in a rage. When, however, it was revived in New York in 1949 it was enthusiastically received.

In 1953 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She became a Roman Catholic in 1955. She said at the time, “I have taken this step because I want the discipline, the fire and the authority of the Church. I am hopelessly unworthy of it, but I hope to become worthy.” Canadian poet Richard Greene has published a new biography of Dame Edith — Edith Sitwell: Avant-garde Poet, English Genius (2011).

The following poem has been set to music by Benjamin Britten.

Still Falls The Rain
(The Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn)

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
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
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
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

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: