Heart and Mind by Edith Sitwell

Heart and Mind was written in 1944. Edith Sitwell’s best known work is the one produced during the Second World War. Most of her work focuses on themes such as mortality, time, consciousness and love. Heart and Mind, particularly, explores passion and its difference with the traditional idea of true love. Moreover, the poem considers physical and spiritual existence to question this idea of love and mortality.

The poem is written in free verse form. It has four stanzas with eight, five, four, and five lines respectively. As a free verse poem, Heart and Mind doesn’t have a particular rhyme scheme. Nevertheless, enjambment can be read in the poem, and there is a great use of allegorical figures. The tone of Heart and Mind is reflective and it has a surreal and fantastical mood.

 

Heart and Mind Poem Analysis

First Stanza

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)-

Remember still the flowering of the amber blood and bone,

The rippling of bright muscles like a sea,

Remember the rose-prickles of bright paws

Though the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.’

The first stanza presents the image of a lion. This particular image is used in order to convey the lyrical voice’s message about love and passion. Notice how this particular stanza presents a talking lion that is having a conversation with a lioness. The lion tells the lioness that when she dies (“When you are amber dust,-/No more a raging fire like the heat of the Sun”), a moment when her body will disappear and her soul will live on and there is “No liking but all lust”, their true love will survive. The lion tells the lioness not to forget “the flowering of the amber blood and bone”, “The rippling of bright muscles”, and the “rose/prickles of bright paws”. Even though they cannot mate anymore, their love will remain as “Though the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one”. The lyrical voice uses the lions to represent an intense passion that, despite its physical intensity, it seems more honest and sincere when there is “No more a raging fire”. According to the lyrical voice, only the pure emotion of love will live on.

Note the abundant use of imagery in this poem. This is evident right from the first stanza. The images used are very careful selected and do add depth to the poem. It is certainly not a work that is intended to be taken literally. The lion represents many things and it is the attributes associated with the lion that warrant it’s section. Consider for a minute the attributes you would associate with a lion if you were to personify it: Loyalty perhaps? Pride? If for no other reason then the fact that the collective noun for lions I s a pride! But also as well as these “man-made” attributes, lions also posses a very real set of attributes. For all their grace and beauty, they are killers, hunters. It is these conflicting ideas that make this first stanza so striking. Yes Lions are beautiful and are used symbolically as a symbol for positive attributes. However, the reality of them is that they will rip your heart out. I think in many ways this is the point that the poet is trying to make. That lust represents the more animalistic side of the lion.

 

Second Stanza

Said the Skeleton lying upon the sands of Time-

‘The great gold planet that is the mourning heat of the Sun

Is greater than all gold, more powerful

Than the tawny body of a Lion that fire consumes

Like all that grows or leaps…so is the heart

The second stanza presents the image of a skeleton. This skeleton furthers the imagery. Skeleton’s are mostly associated with Death which is often a focus of the poetry of Sitwell.  and compares passion with the sun. This figure is “lying upon the sands of Time”, representing the remaining parts of a body and the longevity in spiritual passion. The skeleton describes the sun as “The great gold planet that is the mourning heat”. This means that the “mourning” predicts the sun’s fading and eventual extinction. It is also clever word play on the part of the poet as mourning is a homophone, the “morning son2 is a commonly uttered phrase. This can be read as the fire of passion that eventually fades over time. The sun is described as “greater than all gold” and “more powerful/Than the tawny body of a Lion”. But, like physical passion, the sun is mortal and it is destined to fade, although it appears to be greater than everything else.

 

Third Stanza

More powerful than all dust. Once I was Hercules

Or Samson, strong as the pillars of the seas:

But the flames of the heart consumed me, and the mind

Is but a foolish wind.’

The third stanza introduces mythological characters. These characters (Hercules and Samson) are “More powerful than all dust” and “strong as the pillars of the seas”. They are remembered for their strength, but they are most likely to fade too (“But the flames of the hear consumed me”). Moreover, passion is so strong that it can make foolish the mind (“and the mind/Is but a foolish wind”). It is interesting that Sitwell should draw on these characters to represent strength and power. Perhaps because the lion was chosen as an image earlier in the work, in order to emphasize the idea of the narrative voice being powerful, and therefore emphasizing its demise, a symbol that represents something stronger then a lion was needed. Both Samson and Hercules were famed for fighting lions so perhaps their inclusion was obvious.

 

Fourth Stanza

Said the Sun to the Moon-‘When you are but a lonely white crone,

And I, a dead King in my golden armour somewhere in a dark wood,

Remember only this of our hopeless love

That never till Time is done

Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one.’

The fourth stanza presents an image of the Sun and the Moon. Once again, the stanza has a dialogue form, as the first stanza with the lion and the lioness. The dialogue between these characters is focused, again, in the moment when they are both dead (“When you are but a lonely white crone,/ And I, a dead King in my golden armour somewhere in a dark wood”). The images that describe the moment after their death show decay and the perishable nature of passion; the Moon is “a lonely white crone” and the Sun is a “dead King”. Furthermore, these images show the unattractiveness that comes with the passing of time. Passion is shown as superficial, because the Sun tells the Moon to remember that “this of our hopeless love/That never till Time is done”. Even though the Sun and the Moon are not physically close, they share a strong spiritual bond. The two moments of love, passion and respect, can be seen together because the sun says that “Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one”.

 

About Edith Sitwell

Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell was born in 1887 and died in 1964. She was a British poet and critic. Edith Sitwell was the eldest of the three literary Sitwells. Alongside her brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell, Edith formed a literary and artistic group in London between the years 1916 and 1930.  The group made well-publicised events and all the Sitwells wrote. Some considered this group to be a rival of the Bloomsbury group.

Edith Sitwell reacted badly to her unloving parents and lived most of her life with a governess. This can be read in her poetry. From 1913 onwards, Edith Sitwell published poetry continuously. Some of her poems were set to music, and her work was often praised for her well founded technique and craftsmanship. Throughout her literary career, Edith Sitwell became a supporter of innovative poetic trends and opposed herself to the conventional techniques of her contemporary poets. Her best-known work is “Still Falls the Rain”, a poem about the London Blitz.

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2 Comments

  1. YOUR NAN November 5, 2017
    • mm Lee-James Bovey November 15, 2017

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