Heart and Mind

Heart and Mind
Overview

Sitwell explores the difference between the lust/passion and the traditional idea of true love in contrasting our hearts and our minds. Our sexualised love is represented in various ways as being grand and all-powerful, but ultimately something that dies and disappears, while the mind endures and true love  outlasts and overpowers it in the end.

Mini-Glossary
tawny – orange-brown colour;
Hercules – Greek demi-god super strong hero, but a mortal nonetheless;
Samson – had God given strength that help him kill lions, but apparently this gift was granted with the proviso he must not cut his hair as a mark of respect, but then some nasty Philistines do it for him and everything goes to pot!

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 we shall mate no more
Till 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 leaps…so 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.’

Edith Sitwell (1887-1964)

Analysis
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Sitwell’s got an interesting history that is well worth a read if you’re into this sort of thing. From an affluent and high-ranking background (daughter of a Baronet), she had a tempestuous relationship with her parents and declared them strangers to her in later life.

However, she was close to her two younger brothers and the three were all literary figures of some note in their day. In addition, she became something of a poetry matriarch, hosting to all of London’s poetic circle. Although she wrote poetry throughout her life, she is perhaps best known for her work during the Second World War. This poem was written towards the end of the war in 1944.

Her work consistently explores themes of time/mortality, love and consciousness. In this poem she explores the importance of passion, but recognises that ultimately it will be trumped by a love forged in the mind and soul rather than the heart and trousers. This could link to her long-term relationship/attachment to a gay Russian painter called Pavel Tchelitchew. It seems that this was a complicated relationship and one that probably wasn’t very sexual considering that she lacked some crucial equipment to keep him interested.

We could also consider the war-time context to be part of the subject of the poem. True love is seen to transcend the physical and endure even after death in some sense, which I am sure would’ve been a comforting thought for soldiers and their wives respectively.

Themes

As above, this is exploring different forms of love and relating their importance through exploring our own mortality. We see the passion and fire of physical love melting away, while the less tangible love of the mind and soul endures forever.

Content

This is the most challenging poem and difficult to interpret that I’ve analysed so far, but more rewarding for the confusion it has caused me and the questions that still remain about it.

I’ll try my best to explain my understanding, but please do add your own comments as I am open to ideas for several aspects of this poem.

So, we begin with a lion talking to his Mrs. He wants her to look into the future after she’s died and is no longer the randy sod he describes her to be. Sitwell describes this passion in terms that suggest grandeur and power, but looks to a time after the passion to when the fire has been cooled. At this time the lovers are seen as being together and truly united, unlike when the fires were raging.

Sitwell then moves from the lions’ chit chat to a skeleton (he could be the skeleton of the lion, but it isn’t worth thinking about). The skeleton takes the imagery one step further by comparing passion not just to a bloody big lion, but now to the scorching ball of flaming gas that gives life to everything. Pretty impressive, yeah?

Well, yeah… but even the Sun will eventually die (Sitwell is thinking long-term here, some billion years or so into our future – don’t worry we’ve got a bit of time to figure out what to do next!).

However, the mind and memory cannot die. Why? Well, they are a metaphysical construct and aren’t tangible. The memory or thought that represents true love can never be killed because it doesn’t actually exist in any physical sense (metaphysics is some pretty crazy stuff to contemplate).

Next we have the Sun and the Moon having a chin wag. They are presented as lovers and the Sun asks the Moon to remember that their physical love is hopeless, but that their mental connection cannot be denied so easily. This draws the poem to a close with a clear contrast between the time limited nature of physical love and the eternal nature of true love or the minds of lovers.

Language and techniques

Let’s start with the imagery Sitwell uses to present physical love, lust or passion. Immediately we are presented with two personified lions that represent the emotion. This choice seems to deliberately provide us with connotations of power, strength and all importance when considering passion. Lions are an important symbol of authority and regality. Our passion for another lifts us above normality and for a time makes us the most important things in each others’ lives.

Further, Sitwell figuratively links passion with ‘a raging fire’ and ‘the heat of the Sun’, which connects us with a sexual intensity and urgency. Exploring these comparisons closer also helps to connect us with an idea of the grandeur of passion as ‘a raging fire’ is something that is uncontrollable and the Sun is the source of all life and thus all important.

The third, fourth and fifth lines are pretty graphic and make me remember some pretty awkward fumbling in my youth. ‘Flowering’ implies the budding of something new into life and is often used to represent sexual awakening and I think here is no exception. Follow the next two lines as if they describe a sexual encounter with ‘rippling…muscles’ flowing over each other ‘like a sea’. Do I need to draw you a picture? I’m fairly sure a quick x-rated search and you’ll know what I’m getting at. Additionally, Sitwell uses ‘rose-prickles’ to add detail to this imagery as sexual intimacy (hah! I think I’ve come up with a polite way of referring to sexy time/getting jiggy with it/making the beast with two backs!) is often accompanied by flushed skin, which can look a little like a heat rash.

If we weren’t convinced that this is what Sitwell was imagining (the dirty so and so), she moves us on from this imagery by thinking about a time when the lions ‘shall mate no more’.

Lions not your thing? Well, Sitwell also compares passion to the Sun – which is also connected to royalty in the final stanza as a ‘dead King in golden armour’ – in detail in the third stanza. ‘Greater than all gold’ shows us the intensity and value that we see in passion and again the intensity of the emotion – nothing else matters, no even gold! She tells her reader that she is stepping up her imagery from lion to Sun because we recognise that ‘flame consumes’ a lion’s body and ‘all that grows or leaps’. Thus she is asking us to recognise that her initial comparison wasn’t strong enough to make us understand the intensity of sexual lust and desire.

She then compares the Sun directly to the power of our hearts by saying both are ‘More powerful than all dust’. This is an extremely powerful comparison and elevates passion to the position of something that gives life to us – is she saying that once in a while we all need a good f… (no, I won’t finish that 😉 )?

We get two more comparatives to help us consider this kind of love. Hercules and Samson are both figures of great strength, from mythology and religion respectively, but figures that had crucial weaknesses that led to their downfall. Their strength is presented as ‘pillars of the sea’. Now, as far as I am aware (any scientists out there?) there are no pillars holding up the sea, but if there were they’d be pretty damn powerful and that’s the point Sitwell is making. Not that it does them any good because like everything else they crumble and they die, leaving only a cold skeleton (the chap who is the voice providing this comparison).

Make sure you talk about the fact that Sitwell deems passion important enough to justify this variety of impressive comparisons. Her exploration of the idea shows just how crucial she sees passionate love as being, but ultimately she recognises that it is secondary to true love. Even the all-powerful Sun will eventually die and be a ‘dead King in [his] golden armour somewhere in a dark wood’ and thus lose his authority and only exist on in memory and history. Ultimately she recognises that passionate love is finite and a ‘hopeless love’, while the ‘fire of the mind’ can never be extinguished.

Flipping it over to look at her perception of true love and its enduring qualities, we see Sitwell presenting it as a closer kind of love. After the lions are no more and the Sun has burnt up, our lovers ‘are one’ because they ‘remember’ each other and their love is based in the mind.  Sitwell repeats the word ‘remember’ three times across the poem to drill home where we should put love and that is firmly in the mind rather than solely in the heart.

In the fourth stanza, she uses a simile to describe true love and the mind as a ‘foolish wind’. This doesn’t sound very complimentary, but she is doing two things. First she is connecting us to the sense that true love is not a physical concept, (something we can see, hold or touch), but rather is metaphysical and as such we can only contemplate, but never truly understand. However, Sitwell is also showing us that as a ‘wind’ it is untouchable as how would it be possible to go about destroying the wind? It does not consist of one place, time or set of molecules, but is ever enduring in some form. Even if the Earth is destroyed presumably there will be wind in other atmospheres, planets, galaxies.

I don’t think she had thought about the possibility of the Universe collapsing in on itself and no longer ceasing to exist, but as far as I’m concerned until scientists know exactly what will eventually happen to the universe then we can let Sitwell off.

In fact, what am I talking about? She did think of this because she concedes that ‘never till Time is done’ will the love of the mind be defeated. By this she means only when the Universe stops will the concept disappear.

Having argued her case convincingly, Sitwell ends with an emphatic declaration that the ‘never… will the heart… and… the mind be one’.

Oh, I’ll just add briefly a little explanation of the three personified speakers in the poem. The lion is significant due to its position within the animal kingdom and the associated regal symbolism; the skeleton represents our mortality and in turn suggests that passion shares this quality; finally the Sun whispering to the Moon – mythically these two are seen as legendary lovers who just never seem to get together, so when the Sun says the mind is more important than the physical, he makes their relationship seems meaningful rather than one defined by their physical separation.

Structure

This is written in free verse and as such has no regularity in terms of stanza construction or the rhyme or rhythm of the poem. We get little bursts of rhyme either in couplets or in alternating lines, but this is punctuated by quite a lot of half rhyme.

Why has she decided to do this? In the 1940s she didn’t have access to a rubbish online rhyming dictionary, so… Sorry, I’m in a stupid mood. I think she is trying to mirror her image of true love, it is not something that is easily defined and quantified as it is a metaphysical concept rather than a physical reality of sexual passion and lust.

Tone

I’d say the poem is reflective. Clearly she feels strongly about the importance and power of lust and passionate love, but ultimately she considers and wants us to consider that in the end the only love that matters and that will endure is in the mind and soul.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

46 thoughts on “Heart and Mind”

    1. Hi Bobulus,

      It actually means the exact opposite to what you are wondering about. The last line is part of a longer, three line sentence:

      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.

      So basically love of the heart and love of the mind will never be the same thing. The rest of the poem makes it clear that the ‘fire of the mind’ is the one that has more longevity and is more worthy.

      Hope this helps,

      Mr Sir

  1. Mr. Sir,

    Can I send you an email with an essay about this poem? It was a task given by my Literature teacher and I don’t really know how good it was.

    Thanks!

    Hope you answer soon!

  2. first, really confusing poem!
    second, can i please know what exactly do the objects ( sun, moon, lion & lioness, skeleton) symbolise?
    third, what exactly does the poet want us to compare? like which 2 things? and ultimately which thing’s side does she take?

    1. 1) It’s a bit tricky;
      2) They are being used to symbolise different kinds of ‘love’ with the contrast between the short-lived love of the heart and the eternally enduring love of the mind;
      3) I’m not sure I understand your question. I think you may mean what is she comparing, in which case it is as above in point 2). Ultimately she is telling us that the love of the mind comes out on top.

      Hope this helps,

      Mr Sir

  3. Dear Mr.Sir,
    I just bumped into your website today morning and I just wanted to know if the mind represents Lust?

  4. Sir instead can we analyse the poem as being, favouring Heart’s Passions over Mind’s Rationality which basically will carry forward the poem on superiority of heart and its affairs. So If the poem is carried forward in this way , the conclusion can be that The heart and Mind both are important for a man but the mind can only be an observer in the affairs of the Heart.

    I hope this does not change the content of the Poem

  5. Sir. I have read many interpretations on this poem in which some favour heart’s passions and some favour Mind’s rationality. So sir , is it okay to analyse by making one entity stronger or powerful than other as its more like a neutral poem . ( personally with the comparison of heart to the sun’s power and the reference of “mind is but a foolish wind” – I feel that the heart’s affairs / passions are always superior and mind can just be an observer in heart’s affair.) so any interpretation is fine? like showing superiority of one ? as both are polar apart entities. as long we analyse it well?

  6. Hi Mr. Sir

    Your analysis are really helpful.

    I just have one doubt, everywhere in the poem it says that passion will die out, but I cannot find a line where it say love in the mind will be eternally together. Can you help me with this.

    Thank you

  7. This is truly a fantastic website, I’m so grateful for the time you’ve put into this for the benefit of others.

    Cheers.

  8. I thought the poem was saying the opposite, that the heart was more powerful than the mind, the heart being the sun. Because throughout the poem, there are references to the moon (which is the mind?), being ‘foolish’ and inferior to the sun.

    I’m a bit confused about the first stanza too, isn’t the lion just telling the lioness to remember their physical love?

    1. As always, if you can justify this interpretation, then by all means don’t agree with me.

      However, I don’t think it is really a case of heart vs. mind, but I think it is really love vs. passion. The references from the lion and the Sun both emphasis that the passion we’d associate with both dies – ‘No more a raging fire’, ‘a dead King’. However, in both cases there is something that outlasts their fire, the strength their love.

      As for the first stanza, I think the lion is demonstrating that lust and attraction are short lived because it is something they are looking back on when they truly become when the fires have cooled. ‘Till the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.’ Here they become one when the fire of the sun is out, thus passion has disappeared.

      Hope this helps you get things straight in your head, but I can definitely understand why you’d be scratching your head with this one.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

  9. What is interesting to me is that when it mentions amber blood it comes to me as the image of “Ichor” which is the blood of god where the colour is amber.

    1. It could definitely be a reference to that, implying that their love will become in some way divine and last forever as Gods.

  10. Mr Sir that was a great analysis but I’m a bit confused . What does the heart represent ? Is it passion or deep love?

  11. Hello Mr. Sir,

    It seems there is an alternative version of this poem, in which line seven is: “Though the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.” Compared with your version where lines 7 and 8 are “Though we shall mate no more
    Till the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.” Therefore the difference seems to be that in your poem there is no more mating.

    I wonder which is correct…

    1. Hi Mr Sioufas,

      I’m not sure it will be a question of right and wrong, poems often have different versions as editors or poets themselves occasionally have a play with or alter ideas over time.

      However, it would be useful to check the Song of Ourselves text to see the version they use, as far as our analysis should go it should be focused on the version provided.

      Cheers for pointing it out though,

      Mr Sir

  12. Sir. I have read many interpretations on this poem in which some favour heart’s passions and some favour Mind’s rationality. So sir , is it okay to analyse by making one entity stronger or powerful than other as its more like a neutral poem . ( personally with the comparison of heart to the sun’s power and the reference of “mind is but a foolish wind” – I feel that the heart’s affairs / passions are always superior and mind can just be an observer in heart’s affair.) so any interpretation is fine? like showing superiority of one ? as both are polar apart entities.

  13. I have to say, this website is really helping me out with revision! I am not a native speaker, and have only started studying the curriculum in English in grade 9, so it’s been a bit tough to adjust to the analysis of literature.

    The “Mini-Glossars” are really, really helpful as I do not know some of the more complicated words that come up in these poems – but you (conveniently :D) explain them right next to the poem.
    Discovering the website today is going to boost my confidence for tomorrow’s (and further) exams I have on the poems, so hopefully I’ll come out with an A* on my report card (and an A* in the actual exam, haha).

  14. Dear Mr Sir,
    I’ve had a lot of confusion with this poem. Its inverted sentence structure makes it a lot harder to understand what the figures within the poem are saying. I know that the ‘amber dust’ may foretell the lioness’ death and that the lion is saying how he feels that the mind and heart are always one. But why throughout the poem do all the references link back to the fire of the sun and ‘cold’ moon?
    And also in the last stanza, the Sun speaks to the Moon in a selfish tone. Is this to reflect that the Sun is greater than the Moon? or could it reflect that the heart is greater than the mind?
    Or is this poem about the heart and mind being one?

    The questions may seem confusing, and I apologise, but they reflect my understanding of the poem right now!

    Thanks

    1. Hi again,

      I’m not sure the lion is saying the heart and the mind are always one, in fact I think the opposite. My interpretation of the poem is that it is basically talking about the love of the mind as being constant, while the love of the heart can be fleeting and unsubstantial.

      I will go back and have another detailed look at it, as I agree it is a tricky poem. However, I didn’t initially take the Sun to be a selfish chap, but rather one reflecting on the Moon’s unhappiness is based on temporary feelings of lust/passion rather than the love of the mind. The Sun is basically saying don’t worry as your lovesickness is temporary, but the love of the mind is forever.

      Constant harking back to the Moon and the Sun is almost certainly due to the popular myth/story of their unrealised love affair, with the Moon never able to be with her distant love.

      Hope this helps,

      Mr Sir

  15. I find this poem much more confusing than all the others, and was taught a weird different analysis from my teacher.
    So I was wondering if you would advise completely ignoring this poem since we get a choice of two in the exam and if this one comes up we can choose the other?

    Cheers!

    1. I suppose you technically could, but I’m not should I’d advise that approach completely.

      Make sure you have some understanding as you never know, you could be struck with two stinkers of questions. However, if you don’t like it or struggle with it then prioritise revision around one or two others with similar themes.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

  16. Can you write an essay about your first question ‘How does Sitwell use imagery to explore the theme of love in ‘Heart and Mind’?’ (about 200 words ) please?

    1. No. I don’t want to write essays that can be ripped off and submitted by students, so I rarely publish my own essays. I will only do so if I have written one specifically to help my class.

      Also, 200 words? What sort of essay is that?

      Sorry!

      Mr Sir

      1. Just for an example it is not going to be used for exams or something like that ı just want to know how to answer that question.You can write a pragraph too about 100 word. Thank you

      2. I’m going to write a post this weekend about how to structure an essay response and go into a bit of detail. That’ll have to do I’m afraid.

        Cheers,

        Mr Sir

  17. I have a question regarding the moon being pictured as an old woman and the sun as a slain king. When I try to relate these two figures to the previous stanzas, the moon turns out to be passion and the sun turns out to be ….? The sun here would logically represent the mind, the masculine form YET it doesn’t make sense that when the sun (the mind) is dead, the heart is left alone. Can you try to draw these parallels for me please? Thank you!

    1. Hi Irmak,

      I presume you are talking about the final stanza?

      This is how I would see things:

      You don’t necessarily need to relate the stanzas to each other. Sitwell is presenting the same idea over and over, to different degrees, with varied imagery and analogy. In this final stanza, you have the Sun talking about a time when he has burnt out (so, some hundreds of billions of years away), when the Moon will also be in this state because it is already like that. He wants the Moon to remember that the heart and the mind are not equally important.

      The Sun and the Moon have historically been painted as a ‘hopeless love’ story. They never quite come together and the Moon’s white face is seen as being a depressed lover’s who never quite gets a piece of her hot (quite literally) crush. However, the Sun here assures the Moon that the love that they will never realise both the love of their hearts and their minds. The difference suggested here is that it is not possible for passion (love based on lust and desire) and deep love/devotion to coexist. The suggestion in the poem as a whole is that the love of the mind is more significant.

      I hope this makes things a bit clearer.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

    1. Okay, off the top of my head:

      How does Sitwell use imagery to explore the theme of love in ‘Heart and Mind’?

      Bring it round in your introduction to show that it is more than imagery that she uses and then you’re good to go.

      Ta,

      Mr Sir

      1. Yep, no problem.

        Commenting closely on the poem, discuss how Sitwell uses ideas of death and decay in the poem ‘Heart and Mind’.

  18. Hey guys,

    I think that the poem is a debate on whether the Heart and Mind are one.

    The first stanza (the Lion and the Lioness) is about the Lion telling the Lioness about when they die, everything they see, everything they do, in other words…. their memories will still live on. The Lion believes the Heart and Mind are one.

    The second and third stanza is about a skeleton, who probably was as great as Samson or Hercules (Stanza 3) . This is probably why he talked about them. They were both strong but their love interests were the reason why they died.

    Samson’s death was because of his love, Delilah. Delilah wanted to know why Samson was so strong. He lies to her three times. But after much nagging and whining, he tells her and she tells his secret to Samson’s enemies. The enemies cut his hair (which provided him his strength – that was his secret. If anyone cut his hair, he would become very weak) and gouged his eyes out and imprisoned him. Then when they wanted to use him as a sacrifice, he prayed to God, got his strength back (through God and plus his hair was growing back), crushed the two pillars of the temple he was at, and the temple came down, killing his enemies (the Philistines) and himself.

    Hercules’ death was ALSO because of his love, Deianira. Deianira was his 3rd wife. When they got married, they were crossing a river and a man named Nessus helped Deianira cross the river. However, he attempted to rape her and Hercules, very outraged, killed him. Before Nessus died, he gave Deianira his blood soaked tunic, telling her that it would ‘excite’ the love of her husband if anyone would try and steal Hercules away from her. Years later, Deianira heard of another woman who Hercules had laid his eyes on. She remembered the words of Nessus and gave Hercules’ servant, Lichas the Herald, the blood-soaked tunic. The shirt was poisoned, though, with the poison that Hercules’ spear had when Hercules killed Nessus. When Hercules put the shirt on, he was in agony and flesh was ripped from his bones – ouch! It’s clear that Nessus lied to Hercules. Hercules died after that.

    Now some of you may say, “I thought Hercules was an immortal,” Well, he BECAME an immortal after that painful death.

    I hope you understand why the Skeleton used Samson and Hercules. The Skeleton was as strong as the superheroes of the Bible (Samson) and the Greek mythology (Hercules). But when he fell in love, it destroyed him. The Skeleton believes that the heart is more powerful than the mind and even compares it to the Sun in Stanza 2. The Skeleton, in other words, believes that the Heart and Mind are NOT one.

    The last stanza is about the Sun and the Moon. I’m not sure of what the Sun tells the Moon. The Sun called their love hopeless though. The Sun believes that only when time ends, that is when the Heart and Mind can be one – but of course, time doesn’t end…and this is impossible. So for the time being, the Sun believes that the Heart and Mind are NOT one, opposing the Lion, supporting the Skeleton.

    To some extent, I believe that the Heart and Mind are one, but to another extent, I don’t think the Heart and Mind are one.

    What do you think? Do you think the Heart and Mind are one?

    1. Wow, great contribution.

      I think the poem is a vindication for the mind over the heart, but can see how it could bye interpreted differently.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

  19. If the “heart” as you said represents passion, and the “mind” true love, why can’t passion and true love coexist?

    1. It’s not that they can’t coexist, but more that passion is more likely to die. True love outlasts lust and desire, which are seen as a rush and blaze rather than ever enduring. Crudely if you think about the key act of passion, this heightened state recedes relatively quickly; however, love that this poems presents as superior is constant and enduring.

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