Date of Award
Master of Arts in English
Paul J. Petrie
The year 1940 marked a radical change in the poetics of name Edith Sitwell (1887- 1964). Previously the hallmark of her poetry had been her elaborate experimentation with the sounds of words. She regarded her experimentation as a revolt against Georgian insipidity. Her findings were radical and only slowly accepted by the poetry reading public. Her later poetry, however, has very little in common with the early. In 1940, Dame Edith was 53 years old . She was too old to continue finding pleasure through the sometimes shocking wit of her early experiments. She regarded herself as an old woman, and assumed the persona of an old woman in order that she might voice her beliefs through an image representative of her Self. The assumption of the role of the old woman is of primary importance to the later poetry, because it is this role that determines the point of view for the majority of the poems written between 1940 and her death in 1964. This role of old woman has never previously been shown in the complexity of its multiplicity. It is the object of this thesis to do so. The image of the old woman will be traced through the later poetry, and the old woman's changes and transformations will be noted. Basically the change, with in the old woman image, is from a Demeter like corn goddess to an individuated self, supplicating before Christ. Dame Edith' s old woman relates herself to many Godheads and humans along the path towards Christianity, and almost all are representative of either love, rebirth or generation. It will be seen within the context of this thesis that Dame Edith agrees completely with Frazer, who states, "The sexual instinct has moulded the religious consciousness of our race."1 The old woman participates in the reality of this quote. She is representative of everything generative . The later poetry is a series of identifications of the old woman with different Godheads and/or the natural phenomena which corresponds to an aspect of a Godhead. Through the writing of this poetry Dame Edith seems to be looking for a liberation from mortality. With few exceptions all the Gods and Goddesses are of the corn (including Christ in the eucharistic sense). Because the corn is reborn every year, it is identified with rebirth. Dame Edith's later poetry is an expression of her yearning for rebirth. Frazer makes a not so subtle pun, when he calls this type of thinking ''grasping at straws." 2 Dame Edith has none of Frazer 's objectivity. Her intention is to escape from mortality, and it sometimes seems as if her later poetry is a great optimistic rationalization meant to ease her cosmic anxiety. Most of the poetry discussed herein will be seen through the narrow vision of directed analyses. Therefore, allusions whether historical, biographical, Biblical or otherwise will sometimes be passed over for the sake of brevity.
Applin, Stephen William, "The Role of an Old Woman: A Study of Edith Sitwell's Final Persona" (1972). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1371.