Welcome to the Women's Lit Event on Lost in Books!We are celebrating women in literature and women writers.
Today Tasha B. of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books shares why lyrical poet Sara Teasdale deserves a place in any Women's Lit Celebration.
Sara Teasdale by Tasha B.
Did you never know, long ago, how much you loved me --
That your love would never lessen and never go?
You were young then, proud and fresh-hearted,
You were too young to know.
Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it
Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year --
Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking,
I know your secret, my dear, my dear.
--DID YOU NEVER KNOW
Emily Dickenson is generally considered the United State's favorite female poet (and also the only one most people have ever heard of), but to me Sara Teasdale is the greatest. Although her ouvre isn't as large as Dickenson's, she was more recognized in her lifetime; she even won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1918.
I first got into Teasdale's work when I was teenager and picked up a volume of love poems. Every one of Teasdale's poems wowed me. They are painfully romantic, but clever and mysterious. They don't feel contrived or cheesy, perhaps because they reflect Teasdale's own life--she had several men courting her before she decided to marry at the age of thirty, got a divorce, and may have carried on an affair with a fellow poet until she died. In other words, her romantic life was kind of a mess.
Coincidentally, the same characters regularly make appearances in her poems, particularly Pierrot and Colin. I always picture the poet Vachel Lindsay as Colin. He was deeply in love with Teasdale but (understandably) hesitant to marry on a poet's salary. In "The Look," one of my favorite poems, Teasdale wrote,
Strephon kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.
Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,
Robin's lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin's eyes
Haunts me night and day.
I tend to think of the man Teasdale eventually married, Ernst Filsinger, as Pierrot:
Pierrot stands in the garden
Beneath a waning moon,
And on his lute he fashions
A fragile silver tune.
Pierrot plays in the garden,
He thinks he plays for me,
But I am quite forgotten
Under the cherry tree.
Pierrot plays in the garden,
And all the roses know
That Pierrot loves his music, --
But I love Pierrot.
Teasdale's marriage was not a happy one; Filsinger was away on business so often she was terribly lonely. She eventually divorced him by moving to another state without giving him a heads up. Ernst (did he even notice she was gone?) didn't really get that they were divorced until her lawyer sent him a letter.
Teasdale settled in New York City, close to Vachel who had his own wife and children. Nevertheless, he and Teasdale were besties--I can only imagine how his wife felt about that--and poems like "Did You Know" reflect, to me, that they remained in love. But Teasdale, who had always struggled with illness, committed suicide several years after Vachel did, cutting her life and career tragically short.
Although Teasdale may not immediately seem like an example of feminism, she was an independent woman who lived on her own and made a successful career out of poetry while battling chronic illness, depression, and loneliness. Her poems are full of hope and love, even at their darkest.