Sir Beelzebub

February 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

When
Sir
Beelzebub called for his syllabub in the hotel in Hell
  Where Proserpine first fell,
Blue as the gendarmerie were the waves of the sea,
  (Rocking and shocking the barmaid).

Nobody comes to give him his rum but the
Rim of the sky hippopotamus-glum
Enhances the chances to bless with a benison
Alfred Lord Tennyson crossing the bar laid
With cold vegetation from pale deputations
Of temperance workers (all signed In Memoriam)
Hoping with glory to trip up the Laureate’s feet,
  (Moving in classical metres)…

Like Balaclava, the lava came down from the
Roof, and the sea’s blue wooden gendarmerie
Took them in charge while Beelzebub roared for his rum.
  …None of them come!

– Edith Sitwell

With sonics as succulent as syllabub, “Sir Beelzebub” concludes Façade, Sitwell’s collection of sound poems, with the most coherent narration of the series: something to do with the Prince of Darkness’ sweet tooth. After a stuttering start, the poems erupts into a galloping meter, performs a few metrical tricks, and ends abruptly in the hammered four-note knock of its last line.

In her notes, Sitwell summarized the ideas behind “Sir Beelzebub” and its ilk:

The poems in Façade are abstract poems — that is, they are patterns in sound… My experiments in Façade consist of inquiries into the effect on rhythm and on speed of the use of rhymes, assonances, and dissonances, placed at the beginning and in the middle of lines, as well as at the end, and in the most elaborate patterns.

…The poems appeared strange, sometimes because of the heightened imagery and sometimes because, to quote a phrase of the scientist Henri Poincaré, ‘the accident of a rhyme can call forth a system.’

William Walton orchestrated the poems in the 1920s (to quite a stir — Noël Coward walked out on the debut performance). Listen to selections below:

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