Sara Trevor Teasdale





      Villa Serbelloni-Bellaggio

The fountain shivers lightly in the rain,

The laurels drip, the fading roses fall,

The marble satyr plays a mournful strain

That leaves the rainy fragrance musical.


Oh dripping laurel, Phoebus sacred tree,

Would that swift Daphne's lot might come to me,

Then would I still my soul and for an hour

Change to a laurel in the glancing shower.




   Night Song at Amalfi


I asked the heaven of stars
What I should give my love—
It answered me with silence,
        Silence above.

I asked the darkened sea
Down where the fishers go—
It answered me with silence,
        Silence below.

Oh I could give him weeping,
Or I could give him song—
But how can I give him silence
        My whole life long ?





        To a Child Watching the Gulls

                   (Queenstown Harbor)


The painted light was on their underwings,
And on their firm curved breasts the painted light,
Sailing they swerved in the rd air of sunset
With petulant cries unworthy of their flight;
But on their underwings that fleeting splendor,
Those chilly breasts an instant burning red-
You who are young, O you who will outlive me,
Remember them for the indifferent dead.



                           Madeira from the Sea


Out of the delicate dream of the distance an emerald emerges

Veiled in the violet folds of the air of the sea;

Softly the dream grows awakening -- shimmering white of a city,

Splashes of crimson, the gay bougainvillea, the palms.

High in the infinite blue of its heaven a quiet cloud lingers,

Lost and forgotten of winds that have fallen asleep,

Fallen asleep to the tune of a Portuguese song in a garden.





                        If death is kind

Perhaps if Death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.




                        In memory of Vachel Lindsay


“Deep in the ages”, you said, “deep in the ages,”

      And, “To live in mankind is far more than to live in a


You are deep in the ages, now, deep in the ages,

      You whom the world could not break, nor the years tame.


Fly out, fly on, eagle that is not forgotten,

      Fly straight to the innermost light, you who loved sun in

            your eyes,

Free of the fret, free of the weight of living,

      Bravest among the brave, gayest among the wise.



                       Strange victory


To this, to this, after my hope was lost,

      To this strange victory;

To find you with the living, not the dead,

      To find you glad of me;

To find you wounded even les than I,

      Moving as I across the stricken plain;

After the battle to have found your voice

      Lifted above the slain.



                                    I would live


I would live in your love as the sea-grasses
          live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn
          down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have
           gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I
          would follow your soul as it leads.



            I am not yours


I am not yours, not lost in you,

      Not lost, although I long to be

Lost as a candle lit at noon,

      Lost as a snowflake in the sea.


You love me, and I find you still

      A spirit beautiful and bright,

Yet I am I, who long to be

      Lost as a light is lost in light.


Oh plunge me deep in love -- put out

      My senses, leave me deaf and blind,

Swept by the tempest of your love,

      A taper in a rushing wind.



                     I Shall Not Care


WHEN I am dead and over me bright April

     Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,

Though you should lean above me broken-hearted,

     I shall not care.


I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful

    When rain bends down the bough;

And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted

     Than you are now.






One by one, like leaves from a tree,

All my faiths have forsaken me;

But the stars above my head

Burn in white and delicate red,

And beneath my feet the earth

Brings the sturdy grass to birth.

I who was content to be

But a silken-singing tree,

But a rustle of delight

In the wistful heart of night,

I have lost the leaves that knew

Touch of rain and weight of dew.

Blinded by a leafy crown

I looked neither up nor down—

But the little leaves that die

Have left me room to see the sky;

Now for the first time I know

Stars above and earth below.



                    Advice to a Girl



            No one worth possessing
            Can be quite possessed;
               Lay that on your heart,
               My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
              Lay it on your hot cheek,
                Let it hide your tear.
                 Hold it like a crystal
                 When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
               No one worth possessing
                Can be quite possessed.



                     Midsummer night


Midsummer night, without a moon, but the stars

      In a serene bright multitude were there,

Even the shyest ones, even the faint motes shining

      Low in the north, under the Little Bear.


When I have said “This tragic farce I play in

      Has neither dignity, delight nor end,”

The holy night draws all its stars around me,

      I am ashamed, I have betrayed my Friend.



                     Marianna Alcoforado

                (The Portuguese Nun -- 1640-1723)


The sparrows wake beneath the convent eaves;

I think I have not slept the whole night through.

But I am old; the aged scarcely know

The times they wake and sleep, for life burns down;

They breathe the calm of death before they die.

The long night ends, the day comes creeping in,

Showing the sorrows that the darkness hid,

The bended head of Christ, the blood, the thorns,

The wall's gray stains of damp, the pallet bed

Where little Sister Marta dreams of saints,

Waking with arms outstretched imploringly

That seek to stay a vision's vanishing.

I never had a vision, yet for me

Our Lady smiled while all the convent slept

One winter midnight hushed around with snow --

I thought she might be kinder than the rest,

And so I came to kneel before her feet,

Sick with love's sorrow and love's bitterness.

But when I would have made the blessed sign,

I found the water frozen in the font,

And touched but ice within the carved stone.

The saints had hid themselves away from me,

Leaving the windows black against the night;

And when I sank upon the altar steps,

Before the Virgin Mother and her Child,

The last, pale, low-burnt taper flickered out,

But in the darkness, smooth and fathomless,

Still twinkled like a star the holy lamp

That cast a dusky glow upon her face.

Then through the numbing cold peace fell on me,

Submission and the gracious gift of tears,

For when I looked, Oh! blessed miracle,

Her lips had parted and Our Lady smiled!

And then I knew that Love is worth its pain

And that my heart was richer for his sake,

Since lack of love is bitterest of all.


The day is broad awake -- the first long beam

Of level sun finds Sister Marta's face,

And trembling there it lights a timid smile

Upon the lips that say so many prayers,

And have no words for hate and none for love.

But when she passes where her prayers have gone,

Will God not smile a little sadly then,

And send her back with gentle words to earth

That she may hold a child against her breast

And feel its little hands upon her hair?

We weep before the Blessed Mother's shrine,

To think upon her sorrows, but her joys

What nun could ever know a tithing of?

The precious hours she watched above His sleep

Were worth the fearful anguish of the end.

Yea, lack of love is bitterest of all;

Yet I have felt what thing it is to know

One thought forever, sleeping or awake;

To say one name whose sweetness grows so strange

That it might work a spell on those who weep;

To feel the weight of love upon my heart

So heavy that the blood can scarcely flow.

Love comes to some unlooked-for, quietly,

As when at twilight, with a soft surprise,

We see the new-born crescent in the blue;

And unto others love is planet-like,

A cold and placid gleam that wavers not,

And there are those who wait the call of love

Expectant of his coming, as we watch

To see the east grow pallid ere the moon

Lifts up her flower-like head against the night.

Love came to me as comes a cruel sun,

That on some rain-drenched morning, when the leaves

Are bowed beneath their clinging weight of drops,

Tears through the mist, and burns with fervent heat

The tender grasses and the meadow flowers;

Then suddenly the heavy clouds close in

And through the dark the thunder's muttering

Is drowned amid the dashing of the rain.


But I have seen my day grow calm again.

The sun sets slowly on a peaceful world,

And sheds a quiet light across the fields.






              Since Death brushed past me


Since Death brushed past me once more to-day,

Let me say quickly what I must say:

Take without shame the love I give you,

Take it before I am hurried away.


You are intrepid, noble, kind,

My heart goes to you with my mind,

The plummet of your thought is long

Sunk in deep water, cold with song.

You are all I asked my dear -

My words are said, my way is clear.




               Moon's Ending



Moon, worn thin to the width of a quill,
     In the dawn clouds flying,
How good to go, light into light, and still
     Giving light, dying.









The Strange Victory of Sara Teasdale, by Marya Zarturenska


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American literature





American Literature, Vol. 53, No. 2. (May, 1981), pp. 320-324.




SARA TEASDALE: Woman and Poet. By William Drake. New York: Harper and Row. 1979. xiv, 304 pp.


THE POETIC VISION OF MURIEL RUKEYSER By Louise Kertesz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press. 1980. xviii, 412 pp.


Two books on two quite different American women poets aim at surprising us with their revelations. William Drake, having enjoyed access to letters and personal papers previously withheld from publication and largely unavailable to earlier researchers, identifies an unrequited love which, in his view, explains much of the life and a good deal of the poetry composed by Sara Teasdale. Louise Kertesz, in composing the first book length study to date of Muriel Rukeyser's work and its critical reception, identifies some of the sources of the hostility that Rukeyser's work so often engendered and, in so doing, attempts to correct and answer what remain, in her view, the distortions and missed understandings of unsympathetic reviewers. Perhaps because both Drake and Kertesz too ardently believed in the importance of their respective revelations, their books, despite obvious good intentions, inadvertently miss their mark.

As is so often the case with the difficult art of biography, Drake's Sara Teasdale: Woman and Poet resented perhaps the greater challenge: in it, Drake attempted both to resurrect the life and times of a poet whose work has long been out of fashion, and, by recreating the social, emotional, and historical context for the work's composition, sought also to breathe new life into individual lines and lyrics. In much of this he succeeds, admirably renewing our acquaintance with a lyric expression that, during the fifteen years preceding Sara Teasdale's death in 1933, was counted among the most widely read and critically acclaimed poetry in America.

Relying on "a small notebook" into which Teasdale methodically entered "each of her poems . . . as she wrote it . . . dating it carefully and often noting where it was accepted for publication," Drake was able "to reconstruct the chronology of her work with unusual fullness, [and] to trace her development almost from day to day during her most productive periods" (p. vii). This alone makes Drake's biography an invaluable resource for future Teasdale studies. He stands on less certain ground in his attempt "to link the poems with the circumstances of her life" (p. vii). Here, Drake relies heavily on his discovery of Sara Teasdale's early, unrequited love for the poet, editor, and sometime critic, John Hall Wheelock. That, after lengthy correspondence, Teasdale did leave her native St. Louis to pursue Wheelock in New York, hoping for a marriage proposal, the evidence amply confirms. The early lyrics of unanswered passion, and the poems depicting a woman's inability to openly express her love, may thus accurately reflect the experiences of a young woman hopelessly in love with a man who did not return her love, nor even know of it (since Victorian proprieties demanded passive silence of the woman, whatever her feelings). That a life-long unrequited passion for Wheelock (who remained a good and close friend to Teasdale throughout her life) can be said to motivate poetry written over a decade after the abortive pursuit, however, is open to question. The recurrent themes of an absent or unattainable lover were the conventional stuff of women's lyrics; and, in many instances, such statements could as easily have referred to Teasdale's husband, Ernst Filsinger, who was often away on extended business trips. By themselves, therefore (and Drake offers no later corroborating evidence), the poems cannot stand as evidence for all of Drake's speculations about the nature of Teasdale's continuing attachment to Wheelock-and especially so in the case of a poet who said of her art: "A poem springs from emotions produced by actual experience, or, almost as forcefully, from those produced by an imaginary experience" (p. 215).

Open to question, as well, is Drake's understanding of Teasdale's early and powerful attachments to influential women friends, his assessment of Teasdale's marriage to Filsinger, and, most especially, his highly speculative (and extravagantly overwritten) reconstruction of Teasdale's upbringing and childhood family relations. The welter of background detail which strikes one as extraneous in the opening chapters, however, wholly enriches the rest of the book. It offers fascinating glimpses into the development of rival poetry circles in New York and Chicago in the years preceding World War I; and it paints sometimes intimate portraits of personalities within those circles-Harriet Monroe and Eunice Tietjensin Chicago, for example, or Jean and Louis Untermeyer in New York. The generous quotations from both sides of the correspondence between Teasdale and Vachel Lindsay, moreover, are themselves worth the price of admission.

In the last two years of her life, Teasdale worked on a biography of Christina Rossetti. Drake read that unfinished (and unpublished) manuscript more for its self-revelations than for its insights into Rossetti, taking hints from it to shape his understanding of the undercurrents of Teasdale's life and work. He sees in Teasdale's empathy for the " 'great change in thought and manners' " that occurred during Rossetti's lifetime, for example, an echo of Teasdale's "attitude toward her own life, which had witnessed the catastrophic reversal of the Victorian" (p. 283). The study of Rossetti, however, Drake doubts. He fears that, completed, it would not "have fulfilled the promise that lay half-hidden between the lines" (p. 286). The same might be said of Drake's biography of Teasdale. Tantalizing in some of its revelations, it seems finally incomplete, disappointing us in all it cannot reveal or explain. As a result, though it stands as the fullest depiction of Sara Teasdale we have, that poet remains-as she herself wished-"half-hidden between the lines.”

So, too, in a way, does Muriel Rukeyser in Louise Kertesz's The Poetic Vision of Muriel Rukeyser. The timing of the Kertesz study happily coincides with the publication of Rukeyser's Collected Poems (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979) and, less happily, with the year in which we wish to commemorate the achievement of a woman whose passing we have only too recently mourned. The problem with the book is that it fails to do full justice to that achievement.

The difficulty, I think, stems from the fact that Kertesz could not contain her (often quite justified) anger at the stupidity which marked many reviews of Rukeyser's work, and at the lack of generosity which marked critics' responses to Rukeyser herself. As a result, sustained and probing analysis of Rukeyser's developing poetic craft is repeatedly abandoned for a defensiveness of tone and method that converts critical judgment into apologia. Once Kertesz had expressed her understanding of why Rukeyser went so largely unappreciated in certain critical circles-"Rukeyser's work has suffered at the hands of critics who felt she did not as a woman, write the right kind of poetry. She was too bold for some critics, too sweeping and assertive" (p. 42)-she should then have concentrated on her explanatory readings of the poetry itself. Instead, she chose to waste precious space quoting and responding to criticisms or reviews long since faded from memory (if, indeed, we ever attended to them in the first place).

Beginning with Rukeyser's first book, Theory of Flight (1935)~Kertesz had apparently wanted to demonstrate the increasingly "successful fusion of personal and social themes" in Rukeyser's developing work by tracing "the organic growth of Rukeyser's political ideas in their relationship to her larger philosophy of life" (pp. 84; 44). She wanted also to examine Rukeyser as "a poet of liberating eros, of the unembarrassed, vulnerable admission of need" (p. 382). And, perhaps the most interesting of all, Kertesz wanted to define Rukeyser as "essentially a modern poet of possibility . . . in the tradition of the transcendental writers of America's Golden Day: Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau" (.p. 46) . She does some of this, of course; but not in any satisfyingly sustained or concentrated way. Interrupting the clear development of these themes are the constraints of chronology, which she follows carefully (but often gracelessly) and, more disturbing, the relentless reversion to apologia for a writer who now no longer needs defense. The chapters falter into repetitious contention, awkward in organization.

Despite these faults, however, Kertesz points to useful directions for future studies. She persuades us that Rukeyser's work may be best understood as a "personal exploration" set against "the background of a world of increasing terror and inhumanity" (p. 49). And for feminist critics, especially, she suggests the riches to be garnered from exploring Rukeyser's relation both to her better-known female predecessors, like Lola Ridge, and to lesser known precursors like Marya Zaturenska and Genevieve Taggard.

A certain irony emerges when these two books are read together. Sara Teasdale, shying away from the controversial in her work and holding to outmoded Victorian proprieties in her life, was a woman poet who enjoyed success because of and was pleased at "the recognition of 'my consistently feminine attitude in the love lyrics' " (p. 85). Rukeyser, by contrast openly political and often controversial, composed a poetry that, in Kertesz's words, "recalls the boldness and scope of Whitman's" (p. 43).Teasdale fit perfectly her contemporaries' notion of a lady poet, while Rukeyser's work, according to Kertesz, "didn't fit into critics' notions of . . . what poetry by a woman should be" (p. 43). But each, in her way, paid a price. For Teasdale, the work finally was not sustaining enough: she took her life in 1933 at age forty-nine. And, though enormously popular in her own day, her words rarely find their way into current anthologies. Rukeyser, daring to be different, saw her volumes misunderstood, her work too long left unappreciated, and she herself at times personally vilified in harsh reviews. Together, their stories stand as a comparative object lesson in what striving women in our society learn all too well: damned if you do, damned if you don't.


Lee, New Hampshire.






American Literature, Vol. 33, No. 2. (May, 1961), pp. 237-238.


SARA TEASDALE,  BIOGRAPHY By Margaret Haley Carpenter. New York: The Schulte Publishing Co. 1960. xx, 377 pp.




From circumstances easily realized, Margaret Haley Carpenter's biography of Sara Teasdale is an unconventional book that nevertheless presents a distinctly familiar point of view. There is probably little new to be said of Sara Teasdale as a writer. She obviously belongs to a conservative group of poets moderately accomplished but fundamentally unadventurous and much alike in England and America. Her lyric vein is at times fruitful; the earnest dedication to her craft is unmistakable. So far as any new appraisal of the artist emerges, it lies in her favor, since almost beyond question the general estimate for the score of years following her death in 1933 was too strongly averse. The book's chief focus, as far as its more serious values go, is not Sara Teasdale considered as either writer or personality but first of all its presentation of unexpectedly eloquent letters by Vachel Lindsay. Second in value is its exposition of the mentality of young girls in upper-middle-class life growing up in the atmosphere prevailing at approximately 1900.Finally, its merit lies in its general picturing of literary life, including sympathetic glimpses of such capable poets as John Hall Wheelock and Witter Bynner. The book provides a cyclorama of a large cluster of writers, with Sara Teasdale as too passive a center to sustain warm interest in herself.

Here, to be more specific, are published for the first time many letters by Lindsay, a few of which are more pathetic than imaginative but several of which are surprisingly artful, equal, or even superior to his best verse. In the end one concludes that Harriet Monroe was justified in her appraisal of the two tragic lovers: that one was a poet of considerable consequence, the other, a conscientious craftsman. The similarity in the manner of their self-inflicted deaths, one following shortly after the other, gives their story a moving fatality. In altogether a different manner but well justifying its existence is the prolonged portrait of Sara Teasdale's girlhood. This serves some purpose even in the composite picture of a by no means untalented generation of writers which at the end fell short of spiritual maturity. But its chief use lies in its delineation of some acute and virtually perennial trials of adolescence. The biographer has an admirable command of the formal requirements of her task; her book is well documented and supplied with a useful index; yet she fails to convince her reader that she possesses a critical grasp of the intellectual and aesthetic problems presented by her materials. Sara cannot well be mistaken for Sappho.


Columbia University.  



Books Blog


Posted by Carol Rumens Monday 2 May 2011 10.20 BST


Poem of the week: Redbirds by Sara Teasdale


Much-maligned, succint and direct poems like this sunny lyric reveal a poet due a reassessment


Sara Teasdale was one of the few American women poets who aroused not the slightest "anxiety of influence" in the ambitious young Sylvia Plath. In one of her letters home, Plath congratulated herself on not "quailing and whining like Teasdale". This dismissal may not amount simply to a literary judgment: Teasdale had committed suicide in 1933, at the age of 48, and Plath was already uneasy about the connection she'd detected between women writers and suicide. Germaine Greer, tackling the same uncomfortable theme in her controversial 1995 monograph on women poets, Slipshod Sybils, comments that, in the end, Teasdale had "no other subject than her own longings and disappointments."

It was a sad finale. Teasdale in her prime had been a popular and acclaimed writer. She was very much a poet of mood, and her style was simple, lyrical and succinct. Her range of ideas was limited, but at best she could evoke some key moment in a personal relationship in a sharp, revealing way. City and countryside alike are sketched in with a skilful hand, and she certainly didn't sing the blues all the time. Her earlier books contain many delighted, even ecstatic, love poems. This week's choice, "Redbirds", looks back without self-pity to youthful happiness and a particularly special day in May.

To its credit, the poem doesn't divulge why the day was so wonderful. Teasdale keeps her eye precisely focused on the countryside of her St Louis birthplace. There's even a twinkle of wistful humour. Those migrant finches, the redbirds, are certainly handsome, but their song, apparently, consists of "chicky chucky chuck". I'm sure Teasdale is perfectly aware of this, and that the "honey-call" is a knowing allusion to the way ordinary sights and sounds are transformed by happiness (there are other poems on this very theme) and, of course, by what they symbolise. The redbirds would have arrived with the hot weather – and they didn't stay for long.

All the proper names in the beginning are evocative, appealing to eye and ear alike. Redbirds, redbuds, buckberry – the repeated Bs bubble like water. The Mississippi is probably the river in the poem, perhaps near its confluence with the Missouri, where the wooded limestone bluffs can rise to a height of 40ft. Teasdale's palette is unexpected, its colours more usually associated with autumn. English poetry celebrates May with images of shining grass and delicately coloured wild-flowers: this American eye gives us refreshing splashes of red, brown and gold. At the same time, Teasdale's ear remembers the English folk tradition in the repetitive opening lines, with a hint of fairytale magic in "long and long ago", and the delicate irregularities of metre in verse three.

The weight of the poem finally seems to rest on the place-name, Saxton's Hill, redolent of memories both public and personal. Rufus Saxton was a heroic Union Army brigadier-general so perhaps another shade of red is hinted here: the bloodshed of the Civil War. The place-name has to carry it all, without any intrusion from the poet, and this potent, low-key conclusion is the poem's master-stroke. Rather than follow a spiral into self-pity, Teasdale's imagination has expanded to a larger view of things. The last rhetorical question acknowledges continuity. Of course there are still redbirds and lovers on Saxton's Hill.

On the strength of poems like this, Teasdale deserves a reassessment. A selection of her best lyrics would surely still be capable of pleasing readers. We all, at times, like a poem to hold up a mirror to our moody selves, whether we're alight with the joys of spring or singing those old St Louis blues.



Redbirds, redbirds,
Long and long ago,
What a honey-call you had
In hills I used to know;

Redbud, buckberry,
Wild plum-tree
And proud river sweeping
Southward to the sea,

Brown and gold in the sun
Sparkling far below,
Trailing stately round her bluffs
Where the poplars grow -

Redbirds, redbirds,
Are you singing still
As you sang one May day
On Saxton's Hill?