Heart and Mind by Edith Sitwell

Notes by Sreekumar K

Heart and Mind, written in 1944, has been hailed as a typical Edith Sitwell poem. Her ideas about time, consciousness and love which appear in most of her poems are explored in depth and expressed with power in this poem.

In this poem she works through imagery and narrative devices. The very first word (Said) and its positioning (inversion of subject and verb) tell us by its similarity to grand philosophical discourses in ancient books that this too is one more like that. Moreover, she has chosen her characters carefully to mix the grand with the ordinary. We have sun, moon, lioness, lion, and a skeleton in settings as varied as sand and space.

The presence of the opposites through out the poem and the different references to mating reveal that the central theme of the poem is an extreme concept of unification of which physical love is only a shade and ‘like or love’ are only insignificant shadows of more substantial interactions like sex.

The lion refers to a time in future, a time beyond death

When you are amber dust, –

and says that there won’t be a physical manifestation of lust
No more a raging fire like the heat of the Sun

or love but only pure instinctual lust embedded even in the ashes left behind.
(No liking but all lust) –

He still wants her to remember their mating routine which is only a memory now.

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

So, there are more than one layer of time and space here. The time and space of heart and mind which manifests as love, lust and mating; another one of lust which does not have a physical manifestation; and then the act of mating which ends up in memory. The lion also refers to a time when even the absolute opposites will merge into one.

Though we shall mate no more
Till the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.

This ideal final merging seems to be the theme of poem.

What the skeleton says, lying on the sands of time (a suggestion that this is a timeless truth) is that the heart or the passion it represents is stronger than the flesh or the earth that sustains the flesh.

The argument is that, the passions of the heart consume everything, when fanned by the mind acting as a foolish wind.

…the flames of the heart consumed me, and the mind
Is but a foolish wind

In other words, the earth itself might turn to ashes someday due to human interventions which are already here in the form of the World War which was going on at the time this poem was written.

The great gold planet that is the mourning heat of the Sun
Is greater than all gold,

warns the poet.

Hercules and Samson were war heroes who have become the skeleton that says this and will eventually become nothing but a speck of dust on a dead planet. Life is much more transient than the earth that supports is.

more powerful
Than the tawny body of a Lion that fire consumes
Like all that grows or leaps…so is the heart

More powerful than all dust

The green earth when devoid of life will become golden because of people’s desire for material wealth, but it will be totally deserted by then. The skeleton says

Once I was Hercules
Or Samson, strong as the pillars of the seas:

The poet now returns to the apparently immortal sun and moon from the world of the mortals. Here the sun referst to himself as a kind like the king of the jungle. Like the remnants of a dead lion in some forest, the moon may become more impaled as the sun becomes more of a dying star in a dark, dead galaxy (dark wood) up in the sky. The sun now refers to his love as hopeless and the only lesson to be learned from this hopelessness is that a complete harmony is possible only when Times comes to end.

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

This is the time beyond the end of time (mark the use of till and will) when the extreme opposites become one ending the deeply ingrained desire for the other among any given pairs of extremes.

In a statement which includes the scientific ideas about the origin and destiny of the universe, the poet explores the elements of love, desire, attraction, and mating.

The idea of oneness here goes beyond the spiritual stand taken by almost all religions (may be with the exception of the eastern ones) and far beyond the traditional concepts of love and sex. The poet seems to suggest that everything has a dying desire to be united like long ago and this is seen and felt as love and manifests in mating rituals.

The narrative part of the poem remains grandiloquent in its style while the conversations themselves remain casual and informal. Yet the poet has kept it poetic by using fresh imagery all through. The poem by being a modern day fairy tale, a philosophic statement, an exploration of love and attraction and a truly artistic expression shines like a multi-faceted diamond.

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