The central theme of this poem is centred around a hard topic: the bombing of London during War World II. Edith Sitwell presents a world in need of change. However, she deals with this theme from a Christian perspective. This viewpoint is portrayed in seven irregular stanzas and thirty five lines which are written in free-verse. This means that, despite being an organized piece of writing with a coherent rhyme, meter and rhythm, it does not follow traditional patterns and these effects are used irregularly. The four final words in stanza 1 are an example of this: "Rain", "loss", "nails", and "Cross". While the first and third form a half-rhyme, which is a common feature in free-verse poems, the second and fourth form a perfect rhyme. Contrarily, the four lines in stanza 3 end with the words "Tomb", "rain", "brain" and "Cain", forming a perfect rhyme in the last three words, while the first one does not rhyme at all.
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Moreover, sometimes an internal rhyme can be detected in words such as "Field" and "feet", both in line 11, following a pattern of assonance since they have the same vowel sounds. Most lines have different lengths and they lack an established pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Overall, both free verse and these latter features enable the author to express her feelings more vividly, so that these emotions will be easily transmitted to the reader. Finally, all these effects provide the poem with beauty, making it more attractive for this reader.
The structure or line divisions also create units of meaning. The seven stanzas of this poem may represent the seven days of the week, symbolizing how the suffering of Christ still persists. In the same way, six of these seven stanzas begin with the same statement: "Still Falls the Rain". This number six can refer to humankind, which was born in the sixth day of creation in accordance with Genesis 1. Furthermore, the fact that Sitwell uses this sentence so many times emphasizes the duration and severity of that moment, thus bringing us closer to her emotions. Moreover, the expression "He bears in His heart all wounds" (line 20) strategically appears in stanza 5. This number may refer to the five main wounds of Christ (two in his feet, two in his hands, and one in his side). Nevertheless, all these effects contrast with the last stanza, which is finished with a hopeful message: "'Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood for thee'". Sitwell uses these words as she wants to remind us that God loves us and He gave His life for us; she trusts in God's ability and willingness to act in a chaotic world. Overall, this poem shows the pain in the world, but leaving a gap of hope at the end.
Since Sitwell has such firm religious vocation, biblical allusions are widely present in this poem. In line 3, for example, Sitwell refers to the rain as follows: "Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails". By naming those nails used upon Christ's cross, she represents the year of writing of this poem as well as the years elapsed from Christ's birth. Similarly, other expressions such as "the Starved Man", which is repeated in lines 14 and 19, indicate the existence of the Messiah, the Savior. It emphasizes the fact that wars only bring about pain and sins which ordinary people could only stand through their hope that this starved man will help them. Moreover, Sitwell sets her poem in the "Potter's Field" (line 8). Later described as the "Field of Blood" in line 11, it describes a piece of land obtained by Judas Iscariot after betraying Christ, which was and is actually still used as a war cemetery. This field makes us think about past relatives who fought in the war, creating empathy. Overall, these biblical allusions especially help Christians to relate the poem to themselves and understand the consequences of war. Finally, the transmission of such deep emotions and reflections also helps to conclude that the register used in this poem is as lyrical as it is religious.
The language of poetry has the power to touch our emotions and affect our understanding of ourselves and the world. This means that language can make the reader perceive the world and the poem with a higher definiton or, on the contrary, with ambiguity, providing this poem with different meanings. Sitwell creates these effects through rhetorical features such as imagery and simile. Imagery is the most popular device in this poem. For example, the rain may be understood as normal rain as well as the raining down of bombs during the air raids. This effect is created through descriptive adjectives like "dark" and "black" in line 2, giving a somber mood to the poem, and "blind" in line 3, representing the blindness of those people in war who do not remember Christ's suffering during His crucifixion.
The rain may also symbolize the blood shed by Christ's side, which is a symbol of redemption for all sinners. Sitwell confirms this fact in line 19: "Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man's wounded Side". Christ shed His blood for everybody in the same way people are unified in their communities during times of bombing. Sitwell conveys that we all have a God to believe in, who will always help us without making any distinction between social classes. Thus, Sitwell makes a plea for clemency in line 15 by referring to a parable about Dives and Lazarus: "Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy of us", continuing in line 16 as follows: "On Dives and on Lazarus". Dives represents the rich man who is unaware of the poor man, the beggar Lazarus. They may symbolize hell and heaven respectively.
Several images of the poem produce feelings of suffering in regards to the war. Thereby, "the hammer beat" in line 7 could be understood as an image of something which strongly beats this poem, emphasizing its hardness. Other words such as "Tomb" in line 9 and "that worm with the brow of Cain" in line 12 also stress this suffering. The latter refers to the mark made in Cain's brow after killing his brother Abel. Finally, Sitwell refers to the "The wounds of the baited bear" in line 23, describing the helplessness of an animal in captivity towards its keepers and, concurrently, symbolizing the suffering of all those people involved in the war.
More rhetorical features are found in this poem, such as the use of the simile. As it has been explained before, the rain is constantly compared through adjectives which convey darkness and hopelessness in the world such as those in line 2: "Dark as the world of man, black as our loss". Another feature is personification. This is demonstrated in lines 12 and 13, where Sitwell claims that "the human brain Nurtures its greed". She provides the brain with the personal ability of nurturing itself. Finally, alliteration on the consonant 's' occurs in line 28: "See, see where Christ's blood streames in the firmament", representing the sound of that flowing blood. Overall, rhetorical features force the reader to engage with his or her imagination and invite him or her to live the experience of war.
Sitwell integrates all the previous points in the poem by using the third person, since she is describing what she feels and sees: the rain and the war. However, she sometimes changes this by directly referring to God. This happens, for example, in the last stanza:
"Then sounds the voice of One who, like the heart of man,
Was once a child who among beasts has lain-
'Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood for thee'"
The fact that she is referring to God is portrayed through her use of capital letters in some words, such as "One". It is also present when thinking about the biblical parable of Jesus having been born in a stable among animals, as is explained in line 34. Hence, it may be understood that Sitwell is trying to represent God's own words in the last line. Moreover, there is a change of person in line 27, where the author introduces her own words as follows: "-O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune-". This is the only time she uses the first person, and it is written between dashes. While the dashes usually appear as a stylistic device in the poem, this time they are used to introduce the author's own voice in that line. This change of person causes the reader to understand and feel the situation from the author's own perspective.
Finally, special punctuation, such as enjambment, is used in order to beautify the poem. It appears between lines 11 and 12, as the pause does not coincide at the end of the sentence:
"In the field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain"
This poem is a statement of the author's Catholicism, which is used to reflect the existing difficulties in the world, such as the connection between the bombs and the dead in the ground. In general, she deals with this theme from a hopeful point of view. In my opinion, this poem is magnificently written. Sitwell employs a fantastic use of vocabulary and literary devices which cause great tension when reading the poem. This also led to me being reminded of some ancestors who fought in the war whilst reading it. I liked how the poet smoothes the tension in the last stanza and gives us that encouraging and optimistic message. Sitwell's poetry reflects his heroic stance to face the terrors of life with an unshakable conviction that faith and poetry will ultimately triumph.
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