Sara Teasdale: A Legacy of Spiritual Joy

Updated on October 6, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Sara Teasdale

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Like a Yogic Chant

This late 19th century American poet, born in St. Louis on August 8, 1884, sounds like a great ancient yoga master as she declaims her joy: “I am wild, / I will sing to the trees, / I will sing to the stars in the sky.”

Teasdale's "Joy" compares well with the chant, “Divine Gypsy,” by the great yogi-saint Paramahansa Yogananda:

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

Notice 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 (1884–1933) is an important American poet, whose lyrics have brought spiritual comfort and healing beauty to many young women suffering the pain of lost love.

"Joy": Wondrous Spirituality

Sara Teasdale’s poem, “Joy,” exudes a wondrous spirituality that one might expect only from a God-realized saint:

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!

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

"Barter": Most Anthologized Poem

Appearing in Laurence Perrine's 1963 second edition of Sound and Sense, "Barter" is one of Teasdale's most famous poems. 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. Meditation requires both stillness and concentration on “Holy thoughts.”

Home-Schooled, Widely Published

Teasdale 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.

Teasdale was courted by poet Vachel Lindsay but married Ernst Filsinger in 1914. In 1915 her third collection of poems, Rivers to the Sea, was published.

In 1916 Teasdale and her husband moved to New York City. 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.

Reading of Teasdale's "Barter"

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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