Saturday, May 16, 2009

There is Nothing Like a Dame

Dame Edith Sitwell by Cecil Beaton
Courtesy of the ever-elegant TOBY WORTHINGTON

Like another stylish eccentric, Diana Vreeland, poet Dame Edith Sitwell was well aware of her less-than-conventional features, yet adored to pose and was a favorite of Cecil Beaton's. Her distinctive (to put it mildly) profile and imposing height (6 ft.) certainly made her a striking subject. Both her appearance and her poetry, which also went against the grain of traditional British prose, inspired strong opinions among her critics; we really would expect nothing less from a woman who favored gold brocade turbans and "cocktail" rings the size of small planets.

Rustic Elegies, 1927; the cover illustration is based on a Cecil Beaton portrait of Sitwell

Since we have only a superficial reverence for actual history, and prefer to gleefully glom onto the glamorous and salacious, we can tell you that Dame Edith's renowned passion for jewelry, rings in particular (evidenced in the portrait above), is documented in the jewelry collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Her lookalike brother, Osbert, was homosexual; and so was her alleged lover, Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew.

Edith and her brothers, Sacheverell (top) and Osbert (bottom), photographed by Beaton for Vanity Fair, 1929

Pavel Tchelitchew, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1934

Named a Dame Commander in 1954, Dame Edith Sitwell was confined by illness to a wheelchair after 1957. She passed away in 1964, at the age of 77.

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 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 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.'


  1. Dame Edith and I share the same birthday. And the same profile, I'm afraid.

  2. And wear gold brocade turbans??
    I know I would.

  3. Thombeau shares the same birthday?

    You look amazing for 121, darling!

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