Bob Dylan And The Symbol Of The Flower (Part II): Edith Sitwell

by Larry Fyffe

British beat poet Edith Sitweĺl, influenced by the French Symbolists (ie, Arthur Rimbaud), and associated with the first-half-of-the-20th-century Bloomsbury Group, takes on the persona of mythological Persephone, the Goddess of Grain and Queen of the Underworld. Sitwell’s decorative writing style reflects the artistic genre of yore known as Rococo, a style that often puts the focus on flowers in its elaborate ornamentations.

Her poems be art for art’s sake but contain Zen-like koan messages; Sitwell draws upon ancient Greek and Roman mythology while revising the stories to depict the modern struggle of female artists in a male-dominated field; a more sentimental and sexualized viewpoint replaces the proclaimed ‘objectivity’ of poets like Modernists TS Eliot and Ezra Pound.

Alliterative, assonate, and synesthetic, the lyrics below refer to “Magnifico”, an Italian statesman who also be a  Renaissance rationalist poet; “Ariadne” refers to Persephone, the crowned wife of Hades, the God of the Underworld:

But no one heard the great Magnifico
Or his pale song, for underneath the low
Deep bough the queen slept, while the flowers that fall
Seem Ariadne’s starry coronal
(Edith Sitwell: The Mauve Summer Rain)

In the dark-humoured song lyrics below, the personna of Zeus, the brother of Hades, is taken on.
The oh-so-compassionate God of Thunder releases Peresphone out of the darkness into the light for part of the year so she can perform her wifely, mother-like duties, and, in these modern times, even write poetry if she wants to; note the homophonous ‘sew’/’sow’:

All right, I’ll take a chance
I will fall in love with you
If I’m a fool you can have the night
You can have the morning too
Can you cook and sew, make the flowers grow?
(Bob Dylan: Is Your Love In Vain)

The following, a tribute to the ‘blooming’ and ‘bloody’ British Bloomsbury Set perhaps:

Flowers on the hillside, blooming crazy
Crickets talking back and forth in rhyme
Blue river running slow and lazy
I could stay with you forever, and never realize the time
(Bob Dylan: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go)

The lyrics below of a God-is-everywhere Victorian poet, more restrained is he than the Bloomsburys, features a wallflower as a symbol for the mysterious Cosmos:

Flower in the crannied wall
I pluck you out of the crannies
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand
Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all
I shall know what God and man is
(Alfred Tennyson: Flower In The Crannied Wall)

Though seldom flamboyant like the Counter-Reformationist Rococo style, and sometimes
purply-worded like the Modernist Hart Crane, or dark and dramatic like neoBaroque poet TS Eliot, the singer/songwriter for the most part keeps lyrics simple, or at least they seem so at first glance.
“Wallflower” is a metaphor for a shy person:

Wallflower, wallflower
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m sad and lonely too
Wallflower, wallflower
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m falling in love with you
Bob Dylan: Wallflower)

Sitwell’s beat lyrics impact the Grateful Dead:

Look for a while at the china cat sunflower
Proud walking jingle in the midnight sun
Copperdome ‘bodhi’ drip a silver kimono
Like a crazy quilt star gown through a dream night wind
(Grateful Dead: China Cat Sunflower ~ Hunter/Garcia)

The alliterative, rhythmic sound of the words trumping the syntax:

The apples are an angel’s meat
The shiny dark leaves make clear sweet
The juice; green wooden fruits alway
Fall on these flowers as white as day
(Edith Sitwell: At The Fair)

Then there’s this:

Silvio, silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio, I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know
(Bob Dylan: Hunter/Dylan)

Edith Sitwell has her critics, but as it’s said of her: after “losing every battle, she won the campaign”(New Statesman).



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