Still Falls the Rain

The language of poetry has the power to touch our emotions and affect our understanding of ourselves and the world, meaning it can make the reader perceive the world and the poem with higher definiton. During the London Blitz in 1940, Edith Sitwell wrote ‘Still Falls the Rain’, perhaps her most famous poem, that ponders human suffering through Christ’s suffering and the salvation of the soul, a harbinger of Dame Edith’s conversion to Catholicism.

 

Still Falls the Rain – by Dame Edith Sitwell

Still falls the Rain—
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat
In the Potter’s Field, and the sound of the impious feet on the Tomb.

Still falls the Rain

In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us—
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain—
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,—those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,
The wounds of the baited bear—
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh… the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain—
Then— O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune—
See, see where Christ’s blood streames in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree

Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world,—dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar’s laurel crown.

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.”

*****

Analysis

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 at war. However, she deals with this theme from a Catholic Christian perspective, symbolising how the suffering of Christ still lives among us in our suffering. In the same way, six of the 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, Sitwell uses this sentence many times, emphasising the duration and severity of that moment. The rain is constantly compared through adjectives which convey darkness in the world such as those in line 2: “Dark as the world of man, black as our loss”.

Moreover, the expression “He bears in His Heart all wounds” 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’”, reminding us that God loves us, has not abandoned us, and He gave His life for us. Sitwell trusts in God’s ability and willingness to act in a chaotic world, full of pain, but where hope lies at the end.

Since Sitwell has such firm religious beliefs, 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”, point to the Messiah, the Saviour, starving for the corresponding love of His children . It also emphasises 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”, described as the “Field of Blood” in line 9, the piece of land obtained by the Sanhedrin to bury strangers after Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ, which was and actually still is used as a war cemetery. This field makes us think about past relatives who fought and died in the war. Overall, these biblical allusions especially help Christians to relate the poem to ourselves 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 Christian.

The rain may be understood as normal rain as well as the sins of men, raining down of like bombs during the air raids. This effect is created through descriptive adjectives like “dark” and “black” in line 2, giving a sombre mood to the poem, and “blind” in line 3, representing the blindness of those people in war (or in great sin) who do not remember Christ’s suffering during His Crucifixion.

The rain may also symbolise the blood shed by Christ’s side, the symbol of redemption for repentant sinners. Sitwell confirms this fact in line 17: “Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side”. Christ shed His blood for all men in the same way people are unified in their communities during times of bombing. Sitwell conveys that we have a loving God, who will help us without making any distinction. Thus, Sitwell makes a plea for clemency in line 13 by referring to the parable of the rich man and the beggar man (which we heard read in yesterday’s Gospel in the N.O. Mass): “Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy of us”, continuing  in line 14 as follows: “On Dives and on Lazarus”. Dives represents the rich man who is unaware of the poor man, the beggar Lazarus. They may also symbolise Hell and Heaven respectively.

“In the field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain

Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain”

Once again, this poem is a statement of the author’s Catholicism, which is used to reflect on our sinfulness and 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, referring to God portrayed through her use of capital letters in some words, such as “One”. It is also present when thinking about the Infant Jesus having been born in a stable among animals.

“Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man Was once a child who among beasts has lain—”

‘“See, see where Christ’s blood streames in the firmament”, represents the flowing of the Precious Blood poured out for our redemption, the continuing promise which is written in the firmament.

’Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood for thee’.

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