Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mood and Impression: Edith Sitwell

Earlier I wrote a blog-entry about British poet Edith Sitwell's unusual war-poem, "Still Falls The Rain." Here's a much different poem from her:

Gray Crystal Bells

BELLS of gray crystal
Break on each bough--
The swans' breath will mist all
The cold airs now.
Like tall pagodas
Two people go,
Trail their long codas
Of talk through the snow.
Lonely are these
And lonely and I . . . .
The clouds, gray Chinese geese
Sleek through the sky.

Edith Sitwell
It's almost as if Sitwell decided to infuse the poem with a gray chill. The poem strikes me as the lyric equivalent of an Impressionist painting. The opening image of icicles on boughs is terrific and makes me think of rare freezing rain, which devastates trees, in the Pacific Northwest.

Comparing people to pagodas may be a bit of a stretch, but I like the "codas" of talk: a nice way of describing what conversation sounds like outside in the cold. After "Lonely are these," we almost think there must be a typographical error in the next line: should it read "And lonely am I?" No--and this line seems better than that one would be: "And lonely and I . . ." Does the line refer, redundantly, to the two pagoda-people, or is the second "lonely" just floating freely in the speaker's head as he or she observes the two? The answer remains ambiguous, probably as Sitwell intended it to be, but the second "lonely" is followed nicely by "and I. . . ."--as if the speaker wants to turn from his or her own (painful?) thoughts and speak instead of the scene. Clouds are compared to gray Chinese geese: terrific. The image helps to book-end the poem, which early on gives us the image of swans' breath misting the cold air. The rhyme-scheme works well, even if pagodas seems to serve codas too obviously.

--A nice, mysterious, impressionistic, compact poem--as we look ahead to winter. Well done, Dame Edith!
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