08 July 2014

Still Falls the Rain

Still Falls the Rain
The Raids, 1940.      Night and Dawn
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.
Edith Sitwell

If you have ever been in the ocean and overwhelmed by the rush of a breaking wave, buried by it, sent end over end breathless and tumbling, you will have some idea of how this poem first struck me.  I don't remember when that was or where I found it, but it has lived in a text file on the desktop of every computer I have owned since then.  I take it out and read it like it's a photograph of an old dear friend, full of memory and longing.

I am not at all devout nor what most believers would consider a believer, but poetry that is spiritual or religious moves me.  There's a yearning in it, as when you have loved the sea since youth, or when you look at that long ago friend in the photo. Though years may pass the sea and the friend are still the same, and so is the love and suffering of Christ in this poem.  And something within the writer, and in my case the reader also, is reaching out for whatever it is that has remained the same despite our losses and our sins, wanting the promise of the sea, and the dream of friendship, and the love and the suffering of Christ to be true still.

Not true in the sense that, if it is and I believe it, I will go to heaven.  No, that's not even close.  No, true in that someone could love us that much, that love could accomplish that much, no matter what we've done, no matter how little we deserve it, no matter how many years of nails we drive into that cross.  The love that the Christ in this poem feels denies that we have to deserve to survive.

And in this poem we do not deserve it.  We are shown at our worst.  Though she had written little or no poetry for a decade, Sitwell was inspired to write this poem by the 57 consecutive nights of bombing London suffered through in the late Summer and Fall of 1940.   The rain is at first a rain of bombs, falling dark, black, and blind.  But through the sacrifice of Christ it becomes the rain that falls on the just and unjust alike.  It becomes the blood that flows from the heart that bears all wounds, the wounds of the suicide and of the hunted rabbit.  It streams in the heavens that we cannot reach on our own -- "O Ile leap...firmament" comes from Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, at the end where Faustus looks to save himself, and fails. It becomes in the end the light that Christ lets flow from his heart, for us.  Thus the night and the dawn of the subtitle.

The ceaseless anguish and shame of humanity, embodied in war and murder, suicide and cruelty, are met in this poem by a grace and love that become incarnate in sacrifice, and are as relentless as the rain.


Marlowe, Doctor Faustus 1462-69:

O, I'll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?
See, see where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop.  Ah, my Christ!
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ! --
Yet I will call on Him -- oh, spare me Lucifer!
Where is it now?  'Tis gone.
And see where God stretcheth out his arm
and bends his ireful brows!

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