“Heart and Mind” by Edith Sitwell is a free verse poem about passion and love. The writing includes references to Jewish, Christian, and Greek myths. It goes through what love is of the heart and follows it with love of the mind. It contrasts and compares these two ideas and sets forth to look at what it means for us as humans.
Sitwell wrote her most famous poetry during World War II. This one was written in 1944. She began writing at age 16 and continued writing the rest of her life. She was the eldest of three siblings who were known for their literary talent. She won the Benson Medal in 1934.
Let’s take a quick look at a summary of Edith Sitwell’s “Heart and Mind” and then have a look at some figurative language she uses and an analysis of the writing.
“Heart and Mind” takes a look at the differences between passion of the heart and love the mind using many metaphors to get across her point. Edith Sitwell does this by comparing certain aspects of these concepts to a lion, skeleton, and mythical characters. Unlike Dickinson who doesn’t shy away from talking about death, love, and passion directly, Sitwell discusses these using symbolism.
The first stanza of the poem takes a look at a lion whose love passes away. The second stanza stanza (this poem has it as a second stanza, other versions of the poem have these two lines combines with the first stanza or even a completely different line that was changed) speaks of how only emotional love will move on and not passion.
The third stanza speaks of a skeleton (death) and compares passion with the sun. The lines go on stating that passion fades away over time. It does this by stating the sun is mortal.
The fourth stanza says that love of the mind is more powerful than Samson and Hercules. Both of these mythical characters were known for their strengths and power.
The final stanza has the sun talking to the moon. The sun, again representing passion, is talking to the moon, love. The sun is stating that love of the heart (passion, lust) and love of the mind can never be felt at the same time.
Title: Heart and Mind
Style: Free Style consisting of five stanzas with a total of 22 lines.
Theme: Love of the heart and mind
Tone: Thoughts about the differences between love and passion
Rhyme scheme: None
Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language
- Lion – wild and passionate
- Amber dust – a reference to the Bible “dust to dust we shall return” – but it’s a hyperbole for being old
- Raging fire -sexual passion
- Flowering of amber blood – flowering is a reference to the newness of sexuality–“when they were still young. “Amber” is being repeated here. It goes back to the beginning of the poem. Since “amber” is being used to mean the color of blood and sexuality, we can then assume that “amber dust” is then in reference to the death of sexuality.
- “Rippling of muscles like a sea” – young and muscular
- Rose-prickles of bright paws – the feeling of a crush or new relationship. Bright is a metaphor for something good, new, and with a good future.
- Moon-cold bone – mind
- Skeleton lying upon the sands of time – skeleton refers to ourselves without ourselves—possibly even the dead or someone who is not complete. Sands of time is just a reference to the future and time ever passing.
Great gold planet – an alliteration for the thing that is important. Probably referencing the individual person.
- Mourning heat – the loss of passion and the sadness it has
Tawny body – orange body of the lion. This is in contrast to the amber mentioned earlier.
- Fire consumes – lust overcomes the otherwise normal lion
- So is the heart – it is saying that the heart grows and leaps like a fire. The heart knows what it wants and often times creates lust and love quickly and unexpectedly.
- Dust – used instead of Earth
- Hercules and Samson – two legendary strong men
- Strong as the pillars of the sea – a simile
- Flames of the heart consumed me, and the mind – the feeling of lust overtook the poet’s thoughts and feelings
- Foolish wind – something that comes and goes easily. The poet is stating that lust may come but it leaves easily.
- Lonely white crone – an old and lonely woman
- Dark wood – a place not easy to find something
- Hopeless love – a love that could never be
- Never till time is done – for eternity it could never happen
- The fire of the heart and the mind be one – the heart and Mind will never feel the same
Poem: “Heart and Mind” by Edith Sitwell
SAID the Lion to the Lioness – ‘When you are amber dust, –
No more a raging fire like the heat of the Sun
(No liking but all lust) –
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
Though we shall mate no more
Till the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.’
Said the Skeleton lying upon the sands of Time –
‘The great gold planet that is the mourning heat of the Sun
Is greater than all gold, 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. Once I was Hercules
Or Samson, strong as the pillars of the seas:
But the flames of the heart consumed me, and the mind
Is but a foolish wind.’
Said the Sun to the Moon – ‘When you are but a lonely white crone,
And I, a dead King in my golden armour somewhere in a dark wood,
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.’
“Heart and Mind” by Edith Sitwell is an interesting take on what love is and isn’t. I don’t necessarily agree with what she is stating in the poem—I believe we can lust after someone and actually love them too–but it does have some quality imagery, rhythm, and passion which should be read by anyone who loves poetry. She uses many fantastic comparisons which are not too deep, yet they are deep enough to help us think to understand exactly what is going on with the writing.