About Edith Sitwell
Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) was born into an aristocratic family and, along with her brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell, had a significant impact on the artistic life of the 20s. She encountered the work of the French symbolists, Rimbaud in particular, early in her writing life and became a champion of the modernist movement, editing six editions of the controversial magazine Wheels. She remained a crusading force against philistinism and conservatism throughout her life and her legacy lies as much in her unstinting support of other artists such as the composer William Walton, as it does in her own poetry. She had a theatrical sense of image as captured in the famous photos and portraits of her iconic features' bony elegance. There is something of the same grand quality in her poems with their stylised diction and use of emblems which can sometimes lead to a deadening ornateness. However, when this symbolism is allied to subject matter of real import the effect can be very powerful, as in this recording of her poem 'Still Falls the Rain'. Written in response to the Blitz on London, Sitwell described this poem in a letter to Benjamin Britten as one of the proudest achievements of her life and on the evidence of this recording it's easy to see why: with its use of repetition, insistent rhyme and Christian imagery of suffering, the poem has a relentless quality like the bombardment and endurance which inspired it.
As with the MacNeice recording in the Archive, this comes from a 1946 disc that was part of a series masterminded by the author and literary impresario John Lehmann on behalf of 'The Writers Group of the Society for Cultural Relations between the Peoples of the British Commonwealth and the USSR'. Sitwell's magisterial tones and received pronunciation may sound dated to our ears, but they suit the solemnity of her poem and the historical circumstances of its composition.
When choosing poems for my tour, I had just one criterion in mind: that each poem must allow me to comment on the...