“Clowns’ Houses,” the second poem in Façade, is an excellent example of an early and accomplished work. Its title introduces the central symbol of the clown, a figure which appears in many Symbolist poems and in modern art. The clown represents the façade of civilization, colorfully made up but comic, empty, and nonsensical. The world is like a gaudy clown; it makes its extravagant gestures that may amuse and distract people, but it is not grounded in truth. If the reader does not key into the symbol of the clown, the poem’s first lines are puzzling. What world is it that has a “flat and paper sky,” a world that seems “out of tune”? It is the world of clowns’ houses, a hollow, dead world made of masked creatures and mummy’s faces—a world of spiritual sterility that the poet dramatizes by comparing it to the flimsy, cardboard stuff of a clown’s play, blunting perceptions of reality. The last lines of the poem suggest that the extent to which the poet enters the world of clowns’ houses, of modern civilization, is the extent to which the poet is silenced. The originality of poetry keeps the poet alive, attuned to those hints of reality that the rest of modern life is designed to obscure.
Gold Coast Customs has been recognized by virtually all the poet’s critics as a major advance in Sitwell’s work. It focuses on a juxtaposition of nineteenth century Africa and twentieth century Europe. There are two major...
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