Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Classics Club: Flame and Shadow by Sara Teasdale


 I first read Sara Teasdale as an immature 11 or 12 year old, and then multiple times in my (still immature)  mid-teens.  It has been many years since I have read any of her poetry, and I was curious as to whether my reaction would be much different than it was all those years ago.  I chose the volume Flame and Shadow (1920), as opposed to her Pulitzer Prize winning 1919 Love Songs, to fit in with a reading challenge.

Sara Teasdale


First off, I was interested in how the title, Flame and Shadow, fit in with the poems.  I noticed several direct references to flame and fire, as well as indirect references to the fires of romantic love.  The "shadow" theme was more subtle, referencing the shadows of pain, loneliness and depression that is evident throughout many of the poems in the volume.

I was still drawn to her poems, but not often  to the same ones that I had loved as a child.  I also saw a depth that I had not seen, recognized (and empathized with) her depression and also understood more of the (now historical) allusions.

I found it surprisingly hard to accustom myself to her more traditional, lyric style, after years of reading modern free verse.  I had to change my mindset, and not think it juvenile (as modern poets often want readers to believe) that her couplets rhymed.

 I was immediately caught up in her word pictures, and could easily visualize the scenes she described.  Teasdale and I share a love for the moon, winter and night, and I felt the feeling I feel when I am walking in the moonlight on a winter's evening.  I also felt the depth of her depression and loneliness in several of the poems.

I wasn't as interested in her love poems, as I have become jaded in my old age and find myself feeling superior to the love poetry.  I don't know why; I'm just explaining the feeling I get, and certainly am not justifying it or even saying I'm right. Despite that, I did feel compassion for her while reading several of them, and even found a connection to some of the more "happy" love poems.  This shows the power of her verse, I think, that it can transcend time and ennui to create a connection.

"There Will Come Soft Rains" was one of my favorites, long before I understood that it referred to the tragedy of the Great War's trenches or to the historically early idea of warfare wiping out man, and decades before I read Bradbury's short story of the same name.  As a result of coming to understand the poem in historical context, and loving the Bradbury story, I have a deeper love for this particular one.


"There Will Come Soft Rains"

Explanation of the Classics Club can be found here
and the Classics Club itself can be found here.
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - I thought I was the only person who'd loved Sara Teasdale as a teenager. I'm not sure I've met anyone else who's ever read her! It would be very interesting to revisit her now; I'm afraid I'd also be jaded for the love poems, which I once swooned over. (Also, I see you have "East Lynne" on your list, which I just read. So: awesome).

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