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Metamorphosis By Edith Sitwell Essay

[Slide 1] Edith Sitwell was a British poet whose writing was looked favorably upon by many prominent authors and poets of the 1920’s. Her poetry, which was influenced by her life as a child, evolved exponetially over the years. In her final period of poetry, Edith Sitwell formed her writing around “traditional values, spiritual matters, and orthodox Christianity” (Cevasco). Edith Sitwell’s harsh childhood and Christian beliefs greatly influenced the evolution of her poetry. [Slide 2] Edith Sitwell’s childhood significantly impacted her view of life.

Edith was born on September 7, 1887 and was the eldest of three children. She had no friends before her brothers were born. Her only friends were the birds that lived around her home (StashPuppets). [Slide 3] Edith’s parents disliked her because she was not a boy and because she was not beautiful like her mother, Lady Ida Sitwell (Devereux). Her tyrannical father, Sir George Sitwell, found her appearance unsettling and forced her to wear a painful device in order to improve the shape of her nose (Cevasco).

When John Singer Sargent visited the Sitwell’s to paint their portrait, Edith’s father intentionally pointed out her crooked nose and asked Sargent to emphasize it in the painting (Glendinning 22). Sargent felt sorry for her and painted the crooked nose on her father instead (Glendinning 24). [Slide 4] Her mistreatment by her parents resulted in Edith identifying with “the sad, the lonely, [and] the scared” (Devereux). As a result, she modeled many of her poems on this sadness and the subsequent despair of the world. [Slide 5] Slide 6] Edith left home with her tutor, Helen Rootham, in 1914 and moved into a small flat. She lived there for four years (Misko 6).

While she resided there, she began her career and published her first few volumes of poetry. Living with Helen, Edith was much happier because she was free from the criticism of her home (Glendenning 33). [Slide 7] The pattern of Edith’s early poetry can be found in her first published work, The Mother and Other Poems. Her third poem in the collection, “Serenade” best represents the striking poetic talent that Edith possesses.

The absolute beauty of the night is embraced with the opening lines: “The tremulous gold of stars within your hair/ Are yellow bees flown from the hive of night” (Cevasco). [Slide 8] One significant piece of her early poetry is Metamorphosis. Metamorphosis stands out from her other poetry in that it represents her transition to Christianity. It was originally published in 1929, but was republished in 1946. The original piece painted an air of melancholy, while the revision displayed more emotion. (Kari, “Metamorphosis”).

The poem elaborates on the cruelty of the relationship between time and death. Metamorphosis expresses death as a relief from agony in the lines, “Death has never worm for heart or brain/ Like that which Time conceives to fill his grave” (Kari, “Metamorphosis”). [Slide 9] Jesus Christ, represented by the Sun, is introduced in the final lines of the poem. Like the Sun, Jesus will melt the “eternal ice/ Of Death” (Kari, “Metamorphosis”). The conclusion of this poem connects flawlessly with the theme and equally establishes her future of Christian allusions in poetry.

The title Metamorphosis implies that the metamorphosis in this life that will “foreshadow the greater metamorphosis yet to come” (Kari, “Metamorphosis”). Metamorphosis contains a noteworthy amount of iambic pentameter with rhymed couplets. Iambic pentameter is the “natural walking meter” of the English language (Kari, “Metamorphosis”). However, the ending of the poem contains a variety of metric rhythms resembling the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who Edith admired (Kari, “Metamorphosis”). Metamorphosis represents a shift in Edith’s poetic career.

While her early poems give an artificial impression, her later poems demonstrate her sense of balance between human suffering and the sacrifice of Christ. She uses poetry to expose how corrupted the world around her has become since she was young. [Slide 10] Out of all of these poems, “Still falls the Rain” evokes the most emotion in my personal opinion. The poem begins by referencing the bombing of England in World War II. The “rain” alludes to either a typical rain of water or the bombs falling out of the sky. One of her most notorious readings of this poem occurred at the Allied Forces’ Churchill Club in 1944.

When she began to read, a buzzer went off indicating a bomb was headed towards London. Edith refused to stop reading, even with the foreboding bomb on its way. She finished reading “Still Falls the Rain” just as the bomb exploded, amassing a deafening applause from the audience (Kari, “Still Falls the Rain”). “Still Falls the Rain” constructs many Biblical allusions centered around Christ’s Betrayal and Crucifixion. “The Potter’s Field” is the piece of land purchased with the thirty silver coins which Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus.

The plea for mercy on “Dives and Lazarus” refers to the parable about a rich man and a beggar. In this parable, the rich man lives his life for himself and spends eternity in Hell; the beggar is blessed with eternity in Heaven. Edith pleads for “both the innocent and the guilty” in this poem (Kari, “Still Falls the Rain”). Edith uses a free-verse form for “Still Falls the Rain,” but she also includes many rhymes. She uses scattered end rhymes most noticeably, with the last words in four lines of the first stanza ending in “Rain,” “loss,” “nails,” and “Cross.

The poem almost resembles a hymn, and its musical properties drive it to a satisfying conclusion. The end of the poem provides a sense of “hope above despair” (Kari, “Still Falls the Rain”). Edith Sitwell’s poetry provides a necessary contrast to the carefree lives of the 1920’s. She may have been an outlandish and unique woman, but this never prevented her from embracing who she was in her own eyes. While many adamantly disliked her, she had a great number of admirers, even in the United States. Edith Sitwell loved poetry and would not let anyone’s criticism break her spirit.

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