Serenade – Any man to any woman – Edith Sitwell

Here Sitwell presents us with a multilayered enigma. It is a dark and passionate love poem; intense, despairing, hopeful, hopeless and impossible. The title suggests it is a “serenade, any man to any woman” and yet what we have is at once a complete enigma, and at the same time an absolutely archetypal image of the violence and folly of human love, in all its forms. On its face, the voice is a love poem not from “any man to any woman” but from someone, any human, to an unfeeling, very male symbolic, cannon. It is a strangely lustful, amoral, unheeding of misery or of impossibility, wildly violent and passionate love song to the harbinger of destruction and the indiscriminate smasher of human lives. It could be seen as hugely homoerotic, or else heterosexual from a woman’s rather than a man’s point of view. Given Sitwell’s own highly ambiguous sexuality and long time sexual passion for a gay man I believe the confusion is both entirely deliberate, and extraordinarily modern in the sense of contemporary and in line with the current storm of similar social issues. But it is far more than a playfully ambiguous attack upon gender norms. Rather it strikes to the common heart of human sexual love itself, and in so doing points to its ultimately violent nature. It strongly underlines the idea that Sitwell seems to be promoting of the ultimate combined absurdity, impossibility, and at the same time deadly seriousness of human sexual passion, of human desire, making a wholly self-conscious connection between human  sexual love, desire, and lust, and the human tendency towards self destruction and desire for chaos, blood, and war. A thoroughly engaging, striking, and multilayered poem which has held my attention and fascination since I first heard it many years ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *