Friday, 2 December 2016

Essay 5: Heart & Mind

This essay discusses the choice of images in the poem 'Heart and Mind' by Edith Sitwell 

Heart and Mind by Edith Sitwell is brilliantly crafted poem that deals with the philosophical idea of the longevity of true love and the temporary nature of physical infatuation and lust. In this case, the heart is associated to lust, whereas the mind is associated to true love that continues to live on. The key manner in which Sitwell breaks down this complicated issue to explain her views to her readers, is by employing various contradictory images that symbolize the eternal and short-lived natures of love and passion respectively.

The first image that Sitwell employs to convey this message is that of the Lion speaking to the Lioness. The Lion begins by saying when “you are amber dust”. This refers to the time when the lioness’ body has perished, but her soul lives on, in a time when there is “no liking but all lust”. Though they “shall mate no more”, the “fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one”. This image suggests that the emotion of true love only surfaces after the fire of passion and lust has cooled down. By the metaphor of lions, Sitwell cleverly portrays the idea of memory and the mind being intangible and metaphysical, something that is beyond the gratification an intimate physical relationship can provide. No matter how powerful the “tawny body” of the lion is, eventually it will perish and only the emotion of pure love will live on.

The second image that Sitwell gives us is that of the “Skeleton lying upon the Sands of Time”. The skeleton quite literally represents what’s left of the body, and continues to remain through eternity even after the flesh has disintegrated and decomposed. Hence the skeleton is a direct representation of the love of the mind and its longevity, compared to the passion that is only confined to flesh. Sitwell adds the image of the sun here. The sun is a “great gold planet” that is “mourning” its death. It is predicted that the sun will eventually burn out. It represents the fire of passion that is bound to burn out, and hence the passion of the heart isn’t perennial. The sun might look appealing and “greater than all gold” on the surface, but like bewitching passion, it too is mortal.

The third image Sitwell provides us with is that of “Hercules” and “Samson, strong as the pillars of the sea”. They are mythological characters renowned for their power and strength. However, they too are bound to perish, and it is their memory and legacy that will continue to live on. Sitwell also comments on how the “flames of the heart” can consume oneself, and the “mind is but a foolish wind”. This indicates how passion can consume a person with its appeal, and this might momentarily sway the mind. However, once passion is removed from the equation, the wisdom of the mind regains control.

The last image is that of the Sun and Moon. They can be said to be depictions of star-crossed lovers, for they can never be one, but they still complete each other. The perishable nature of passion is accentuated by the image of the moon becoming a “lonely white crone”, and the sun a “dead King in its (my) golden armour”. This explains how the physical body might become unattractive with the ravages of time. The image of the “golden armour” is ironic, and almost serves to mock the sun now. It is also a very superficial thing, it looks attractive, but underneath it lays a morbid truth – the sun’s demise. This juxtaposition builds upon the idea of passion being superficial, gold-plating the emotion of true love that lies at the core. However, even though the moon and sun cannot be one, what makes their relationship so special is that physical distance doesn’t mean they don’t share a bond. This concludes the poem with a beautiful thought – that even if one isn’t physically close to someone, their emotion and thoughts always remain with the person. These thoughts will not disappear “till Time is done”. Sitwell also comments on how only one of the two elements of love can be visible at a time- either lust, or respect and admiration. “The fire of the heart and the fire of the mind” won’t be one, but they do surface one after another. Lascivious feelings are followed by respect and admiration once the mediums of physical gratification – our bodies – have gone, leaving our eternal memories and thoughts behind.

In terms of language and techniques, Sitwell primarily expands upon metaphors and employs imagery to explain her concept of love in a lucid manner. She has also put to use a fair deal of juxtaposition and contrast to explain the stark difference between the longevity of real love, and the short-lived nature of bodily lust. The tone is quite pensive and reflects upon this idea of love and its manifestations. The structure is free verse, with some bursts of rhyme in between, allowing the poem to flow freely, yet allowing some coherency.


In this manner, Sitwell makes use of various images and metaphors to explain her opinion on love in a lucid manner. The images are very apt and hence put forth her message in a very emphatic manner, breaking down a complex idea into more plausible concepts.

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