Places: Metamorphosis

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1933, in Five Variations on a Theme

Type of work: Poetry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedTime

Time. MetamorphosisAlthough Time is not a place, it can be seen as a dimension of all life, and for Sitwell it is also a symbol of destruction and decay. For example, for Athens’s Parthenon–mentioned in her poem’s opening line–Time is the destroyer that extinguishes beauty and life, leaving ruins, skeletons, and rags.


Death. In contrast to Time, Death is a place of rest and respite from the ravages of Time. In keeping with the theme of metamorphosis, Time is like a caterpillar and Death is like a cocoon. The grave then becomes a welcome home for those wearied by the trials of life only because Death marks the end of Time.


Sun. Often paralleled with Death in this poem, the Sun burns away the body but also illuminates the beauty of what remains of life, like gems among the bones. Sitwell completes her poem by referring to the conquering of Death by Christ, punning on the word “Sun” and “Son” of God. Christ the Sun brings a new spring that melts away the ice of Death and the crusts of Time. The final transformation is through the fire of spring, an eternal state of life beyond Death and Time.


*Ethiopia. Modern country in Northeast Africa; also, biblical name for tropical Africa. In comparing Death and the Sun, Sitwell often alludes to “Ethiopia,” which is perhaps best understood here in its biblical sense as a broad name for tropical Africa, as a place of the hot Sun and of beauty. Since the modern nation of Ethiopia is also a home of the early Christian church, references to Ethiopia anticipate those to Heavenly Love or Christ, who is finally connected with the metamorphosis beyond death.

BibliographyBrophy, James D. Edith Sitwell: The Symbolist Order. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968. A detailed and skillful analysis of Edith Sitwell’s full range of literary achievement. Places Metamorphosis in the context of Five Variations on a Theme, which deals with the defeat of time.Cevasco, G. A. The Sitwells: Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A useful review of the biography and literary achievements of the three Sitwell siblings. A very useful beginning source on Edith Sitwell, although Metamorphosis is discussed only briefly. Includes a chronology and an annotated bibliography.Mills, Ralph J., Jr. Edith Sitwell: A Critical Essay. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1966. A short and concise treatment of Christian themes in Edith Sitwell’s poems, especially as they began to develop in Metamorphosis and later blossomed in her poetry of the 1940’s.Sitwell, Edith. Taken Care Of: The Autobiography of Edith Sitwell. New York: Atheneum, 1965. An intensely personal and at times painful revelation of the feelings and driving forces behind the poet’s work. She has harsh criticism of many of her contemporaries and critics, especially of her parents, who scorned her appearance.Villa, Jose Garcia, ed. A Celebration for Edith Sitwell. New York: New Directions, 1948. A collection of seventeen essays and other observations by such prominent critics as Stephen Spender, John Piper, Gertrude Stein, and John Russell. Includes Kenneth Clark’s insightful discussion of both versions of Metamorphosis, which he claims present clues to the poet’s growing artistic achievements.
Categories: Places