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Sara Teasdale: A Legacy of Spiritual Joy

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Sara Teasdale

Sara Teasdale

"Joy": A Lyric Resembling a Yogic Chant

Sara Teasdale’s poem, "Joy," exudes a wondrous spirituality that one might expect only from a God-realized saint. Still, her little drama remains well grounded even as it engages the heavenly images of "stars." Her little lyrical drama offers a fascinating contrast between her claims of readiness for life and death.

Joy

I am wild, I will sing to the trees,
I will sing to the stars in the sky,
I love, and am loved, he is mine,
Now at last I can die!

I am sandaled with wind and with flame,
I have heart-fire and singing to give,
I can tread on the grass or the stars,
Now at last I can live!

In the first stanza, the speaker’s mood is raucous, filled with delight sparked from the notion that she is loved. She effuses that "he is mine," suggesting that she has finally acquired that love that she had so long craved. She feels a wild satisfaction that makes her want to sing "to the trees" and also to sing "to the stars in the sky." Such emotional contentment leads her to make the radical claim that she can now die! Such a thought seems antithetical to the lively feelings she insists are hers, but the very exaggeration that all that happiness has prepared her for death merely emphasizes the full life she now feels that she possesses.

The second stanza contrasts with the first only in that now she will be declaiming that she is ready to "live"; otherwise, she remains as raucous as ever. She has wind and flames at her feet and a "heart-fire" propels her to continue "singing" which she now states she has "to give." She can sing for others out of the intense joy she continues to experience. This joy motivates her to "tread on the grass," but also those flights of bliss allow her to feel that she can also tread "on the stars."

The speaker’s joy has lightened her heart and allows her mind to rise to the heavens. Thus, she can now report that she is ready to "live." By becoming ready to die, she is now free from any fear of death, and that fact coupled with her joy of living gives her a new outlook.

Even though the speaker of Teasdale’s poem might be celebrating affection for a spouse or a human love interest, that intense love motivates the speaker to transcend the pull of the earth, and she "can tread on the grass or the stars."

This late 19th century American poet, born in St. Louis on August 8, 1884, performs in thought and language akin to great ancient yoga masters as she declaims her joy: "I am wild, / I will sing to the trees, / I will sing to the stars in the sky."

Reading of "Joy"

The Joy of a Divine Gypsy

Sara Teasdale's "Joy" compares well with the chant, "Divine Gypsy," by the great yogi-saint and mystical poet, Paramahansa Yogananda:

Excerpt from "Divine Gypsy"

I will be a gypsy,
Roam, roam, and roam!
I will sing a sing that none has sung.
I will sing to the sky;
I will sing to the wind,
I'll sing to my red cloud

It will be noticed that natural objects have inspired both the American poet and the great Indian yogi-saint, and they both sing to them; the yogi sings to the sky and the poet sings to the stars in the sky. A great love inspires both as they create their poetic celebrations.

Sara Teasdale, who was an important American poet, has fashioned lyrics that resemble the inspirations offered by the great Indian mystic poet Paramahansa Yogananda, who came to American in 1920 and founded a yoga organization, becoming known as "the father of yoga in the West."

When the works of individuals so widely different in backgrounds and identities demonstrate similarities in image and thought, the reader can be sure that those feelings are profound and genuinely felt.

Chant "Divine Gypsy"

"Barter": Most Anthologized Poem

Appearing in Laurence Perrine's 1963 second edition of Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, "Barter" is one of Sara Teasdale's most famous poems. Professor Perrine continued to feature and discuss this poem in his widely employed text book that introduces students to poetry:

Barter

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

Those two hauntingly beautiful lines, "And for your spirit's still delight, / Holy thoughts that star the night," portray the worshiping state of every meditating soul, again reminiscent of the yogic parallel with the "father of yoga in the West," whose collection of poems, Songs of the Soul, feature many pieces with a similar function and foundation. Meditation requires both stillness and concentration on "Holy thoughts," and simple, ordinary concentration also requires a certain amount of stillness and quietness to success in poetry creation.

Reading of Teasdale's "Barter"

A Brief Life Sketch

The St. Louis native was home-schooled but graduated from Hosmer Hall in 1903. She often traveled to Chicago, where she joined Harriet Monroe's Poetry magazine circle. The St. Louis, Missouri, weekly Reedy's Mirror published her first poem in May 1907. That same year saw publication of Sara Teasdale's first book, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems. Her second book of poetry, Helen of Troy and Other Poems, came out in 1911. In 1915 her third collection of poems, Rivers to the Sea, was published.

In 1918 she was awarded the Columbia University Poetry Society prize (forerunner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry) and the annual prize of the Poetry Society of America for Love Songs (1917). Teasdale served as the editor of two anthologies, The Answering Voice: One Hundred Love Lyrics by Women (1917), and Rainbow Gold for Children (1922).

The poet published three additional volumes of poetry, Flame and Shadow (1920), Dark of the Moon (1926), and Stars To-night (1930). Her Strange Victory was published posthumously, and a final volume, Collected Poems, came out in 1937.

Teasdale was courted by poet Vachel Lindsay but married Ernst Filsinger in 1914. In 1916, Teasdale and her husband moved to New York City. However, the couple divorced in 1929. Teasdale had suffered poor health for most of her life, and in her last years remained a semi-invalid. Through an overdose of sleeping pills, she committed suicide in 1933. She is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes