Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell

Excerpt

In the course of the history of English literature, there have been very few women to make their name as poets. It would, of course, have been exceptional, not to say scandalous in the conditions of the age, to find a female dramatist in Elizabeth's reign; but in the subsequent centuries there was increasingly little to prevent a woman devoting herself to the muse, and it is curious and surprising that outstanding poets of the female sex are so rare. Everyone will think at once of Emily Brontë and Christina Rossetti, both of whom belong to the nineteenth century; but in the earlier centuries who besides the Duchess of Newcastle and Katherine Phillips are remembered or read today? If such poets even existed, their poems died with them; and yet each of the women whose poetry has survived is an altogether exceptional figure, and her contribution to English poetry both singular and powerful like an azalea of brilliant white or pure red blossoming in a bank of swamp honeysuckle.

Such a figure, in our own age, is Edith Sitwell. Like Emily Brontë and Christina Rossetti, she comes of a remarkable family in which every member has in the same sudden-flowering generation displayed uncommon gifts in one branch or another of literary creation; but unlike those two illustrious predecessors, she has come to her unique stature as a poet in the English-speaking world to-day by a long process of development. Edith Sitwell has been writing poetry for over a quarter of a century, and her work has gone through many phases; it has always been brilliant, always unmistakable for the work of anyone else, and in spite of many sharp differences between one phase and another, has always shown a basic unity of inspiration; but, as in the case of another great poet of the twentieth century, W. B. Yeats, the sum of her work is greater than its parts.

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