Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Tag: Virginia Woolf

Leopards at Knole

Sunday, 2 June, 2019

Vita Sackville-West, the English poet, novelist and garden designer, died on this day in 1962, aged 70. Her home, the magnificent Knole House, located within a 1,000-acre estate in Kent, was given to Thomas Sackville by Queen Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century, and Vita was born there in 1892, the only child of cousins Lionel Edward Sackville-West and Victoria Sackville-West.

Vita’s mother, who was raised in a Parisian convent, was the illegitimate daughter of Lionel Sackville-West and a Spanish dancer, Josefa de Oliva, known as Pepita. Pepita’s mother was an acrobat who had married a barber, and Vita inherited some of this adventurousness. Her most famous intrigue was with Virginia Woolf, who celebrated their relationship in the novel Orlando. What Vita Sackville-West did not inherit, however, was Knole. The English aristocratic custom of the day was followed by the Sackville-West family, preventing Vita from inheriting her beloved home on the death of her father, a source of life-long bitterness to the poet. The estate followed the title and was bequeathed instead by her father to his nephew Charles.

Leopards at Knole

Leopards on the gable-ends,
Leopards on the painted stair,
Stiff the blazoned shield they bear,
Or and gules, a bend of vair,
Leopards on the gable-ends,
Leopards everywhere.

Guard and vigil in the night
While the ancient house is sleeping
They three hundred years are keeping,
Nightly from their stations leaping,
Shadows black in moonlight bright,
Roof to gable creeping.

Rigid when the day returns,
Up aloft in sun or rain
Leopards at their posts again
Watch the shifting pageant’s train;
And their jewelled colour burns
In the window-pane.

Often on the painted stair,
As I passed abstractedly,
Velvet footsteps, two and three,
Padded gravely after me.
– There was nothing, nothing there,
Nothing there to see.

Vita Sackville-West (1892 – 1962)

Vita Sackville-West


Diarist of the day

Wednesday, 13 March, 2019

Virginia Woolf, 13 March 1921 — “[T.S.] Eliot dines here tonight, alone, since his wife is in a nursing home, not much to our regret. But what about Eliot? Will he become ‘Tom’? What happens with friendships undertaken at the age of forty? Do they flourish and live long? I suppose a good mind endures, and one is drawn to it, owning to having a good mind myself. Not that Tom admires my writing, damn him.”


Tearing secrets from yielding flesh

Saturday, 2 June, 2018

It was the Megan and Harry wedding of its day when the poet Vita Sackville-West married the diplomat Sir Harold Nicolson in the chapel of the family home at Knole in Kent in 1913. The society columnists enthused over the 21-year-old bride’s beauty and her magnificent gown. The outfit was made by Reville & Rossiter, whose clientele included Queen Mary, and the wedding expenses were fabulous. Nicolson inspected “over 100 emerald and diamond rings” before he settled on “a lovely one” for £185, and on 14 October Vita Sackville-West settled the bill at Reville & Rossiter, “nearly £400, the wedding dress cost 50 guineas”.

Along with their landscaping work at Knole, Nicolson and Sackville-West created one of England’s most famous gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, but in between the horticulture both indulged in many same-sex affairs during their long marriage, which ended with Sackville-West’s death on this day in 1962. Her most famous intrigue was with Virginia Woolf, who celebrated their relationship in the 1928 novel Orlando. Vita Sackville-West responded with this verse to her mistress:

Lost poem

When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you
Through great floral meadows of open country
I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods
For the honest friendship, which made you my companion
But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night
I search on your lip for a madder caress
I tear secrets from your yielding flesh
Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress

Vita Sackville-West (1892 – 1962)

R&R


Heart of my heart, our heaven is now

Sunday, 23 April, 2017 0 Comments

The English poet Rupert Brooke died of sepsis on this day (St. George’s Day) in 1915 on a French hospital ship off the Greek island of Skyros, while preparing for the landing at Gallipoli. He was 27. His brother, William Brooke, a member of the London Regiment, was killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm on 14 June 1915. He was 24.

Rupert Brooke was famous for his good looks, which prompted the poet W. B. Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England”, and he had a large circle of powerful friends, including Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. He lived his short life with passion: poet, scholar, dramatist, critic, traveller, activist, soldier. He is best known for his sonnets written during the First World War, especially The Soldier.

The Hill, a meditation on fate, contains some of the great lines of modern English poetry: “We have kept the faith!” and “We shall go down with unreluctant tread / Rose-crowned into the darkness!”

The Hill

Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
You said, “Through glory and ecstasy we pass;
Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still,
When we are old, are old.…” “And when we die
All’s over that is ours; and life burns on
Through other lovers, other lips,” said I,
— “Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!”

“We are Earth’s best, that learnt her lesson here.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!” we said;
“We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!”… Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
— And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.

Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

The Blue Galtees