Sara Teasdale's "To E"
Introduction and Text of "To E"
Sara Teasdale's "To E" offer a unique portrait of a memory the speaker is sharing. In this memory, the speaker offers beautiful images that spark her desire to share an even more important thought. The speaker wishes to offer a tribute to a beloved soul whom she cherishes. His importance for her also rests in his ability to assist her in evoking those lovely, unforgettable images.
The rime scheme of the octave is ABBACDDC, and the rime scheme of the sestet is EFFGEG. The Petrarchan sonnet may have various rime schemes. As in the traditional Petrarchan sonnet, Teasdale's "To E" fulfills different duties in the octave and the sestet. The octave traditionally sets up a problem that the sestet solves. In the Teasdale sonnet, the octave offers a catalogue of beautiful things that the speaker's memory holds and treasures, but the sestet then dramatizes how these memories fade when the memory of this special soul comes into view.
The sonnet is similar to a Petrarchan sonnet, with an octave that portrays those many things of beauty that she has experienced; then, the sestet turns to the one subject that not only provides her musing with beauty but also offers her peace and comfort. Because this sonnet is somewhat innovative, it might also be classified as an American (Innovative) sonnet. But it does function very closely to the traditional Petrarchan sonnet style.
(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
I have remembered beauty in the night,
Against black silences I waked to see
A shower of sunlight over Italy
And green Ravello dreaming on her height;
I have remembered music in the dark,
The clean swift brightness of a fugue of Bach's,
And running water singing on the rocks
When once in English woods I heard a lark.
But all remembered beauty is no more
Than a vague prelude to the thought of you—
You are the rarest soul I ever knew,
Lover of beauty, knightliest and best,
My thoughts seek you as waves that seek the shore,
And when I think of you I am at rest.
A reading of "To E"
The octave begins, "I have remembered beauty in the night," and this memory motivates her to remember "black silences I waked to see" light shining brightly over Italy. The speaker is remembering the Italian village of Ravello, which leads her musing to what she has heard: music at nighttime, Bach's fugue, water running over the rocks. She then adds that once upon a time she heard a lark singing in an English woodThe speaker then portrays the many beautiful things she has both seen and heard as she has traveled in Italy and England. These memories are important to her; therefore, she cloaks them in rime and a pleasing meter.
As important as these memories are, the speaker finds that the most important aspect of those memories is that they remind her of her loved one. The beauty of all the things portrayed in the octave pales when she compares them to the beauty evoked by the "soul" to whom she is dedicating his sonnet, "To E" (Presumably, her husband Ernst Filsinger.)
The beautiful things described in the octave are natural phenomena, the "black silences" of night," the "shower of sunlight over Italy," and "water singing on the rocks," and the English lark, but there is also man-made beauty, such as the city of Ravello and the music of Bach. But the beauty portrayed in the sestet is simply a human soul about whom the reminiscing speaker asserts, "You are the rarest soul I ever knew." And this soul is rare because of his own love of beauty, which the speaker admires as "knightliest and best."
The final two lines of the sestet dramatize the speaker's thoughts through the simile, "as waves that seek the shore." The speaker's thoughts search out this fellow soul, this lover of beauty on their own, as naturally as the ocean waves that constantly run to the ocean's shore. But unlike the waves that continuously crash against the shore, when the speaker's thoughts flow over this rare soul, she finds tranquility: "And when I think of you, I am at rest."
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© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes