Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), Blind Man’s Bluff
For today the under-rated Edith Sitwell:
The fire was furry as a bear
And the flames purr…
The brown bear rumbles in his chain
Captive to cruel men
Through the dark and hairy wood…
The maid sighed, ‘All my blood
Is animal. They thought I sat
Like a household cat;
But through the dark woods rambled I…
Oh, if my blood would die!’
The fire had a bear’s fur;
It heard and knew…
The dark earth furry as a bear,
The Country Calls
They came upon us like a train—
A rush, a scream, then gone again!
With bodies like a continent
Encased in silken seas, they went
And came and called and took their tea
And patronised the Deity
Who copies their munificence
With creditable heart and sense.
Each face a plaster monument
For some beloved ailment,
Whose everlasting sleep they deign
To cradle in the Great Inane;
Each tongue, a noisy clockwork bell
To toll the passing hour that fell;
Each hat, an architect’s device
For building churches, cheap and nice.
I saw the County Families
Advance and sit and take their teas;
I saw the County gaze askance
At my thin insignificance:
Small thoughts like frightened fishes glide
Beneath their eyes’ pale glassy tide:
They said: ‘Poor thing! We must be nice:
They said: ‘We knew your father’—twice.
Stop a minute and listen to this remarkable music-accompanied reading of poetry by Sitwell and Peter Pears:
Serenade: Any Man to Any Woman
Dark angel who art clear and straight
As cannon shining in the air,
Your blackness doth invade my mind
And thunderous as the armoured wind
That rained on Europe is your hair;
And so I love you till I die—
(Unfaithful I, the cannon’s mate):
Forgive my love of such brief span,
But fickle is the flesh of man,
And death’s cold puts the passion out.
I’ll woo you with a serenade—
The wolfish howls the starving made;
And lies shall be your canopy
To shield you from the freezing sky.
Yet when I clasp you in my arms
Who are my sleep, the zero hour
That clothes, instead of flesh, my heart,–
You in my heaven have no part,
For you, my mirage, broken in flower,
Can never see what dead men know!
Then die with me and be my love:
The grave shall be your shady grove
And in your pleasaunce rivers flow
(To ripen this new Paradise)
From a more universal Flood
Than Noah knew: but yours is blood.
Yet still you will imperfect be
That in my heart like death’s chill grows,
—A rainbow shining in the night,
Born of my tears…your lips, the bright
Summer-old folly of the rose.
Austen would have had no problem understanding the satire of the second (Country Families); we get bit images of it in her letters. Sitwill did write a literary study of Pope; her brothers books on the Gothic North and 18th century genre conversation paintings (of which Lancret’s Blind Man’s Bluff is a brilliant example). Women novelists dramatize such scenes. The first reminded me of how women do write about animals, often small ones, hunted. I can see it would fit an African anti-colonialist perspective. The third (I may be wrong here too) seemed to me a ripost to the DHLawrence school of sex and women made for men: this how is men want to imagine women.
Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry (1918)