Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457

Outwardly, “Appraisal” appears to be a mature variation on a theme introduced in one of Teasdale’s earliest poems. “Faults” begins with the line “They came to tell your faults to me” and ends with these lines: “Oh, they were blind, too blind to see/ Your faults had made me love you more.” “Appraisal” seems to reflect the similar but more mature viewpoint of long-married lovers who have grown to know each other’s weaknesses without losing sight of their strengths.

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While none of Teasdale’s poems depends on knowledge of her life for their understanding, such knowledge gives added dimension to many. “Appraisal” ranks among these. In her youth, Teasdale had the habit of speaking about herself in the third person. While it is common enough for poets to write of themselves from behind the guise of the third person, with Teasdale the practice was apparently a commonplace. Readers acquainted with this fact might tend to read her line in “Those Who Love” about “a woman I used to know,” for instance, as referring to herself. One might approach “Appraisal” in much the same way.

The poem itself appeared in Teasdale’s 1926 collection Dark of the Moon in a section entitled “Portraits.” Alongside “Appraisal” are “Those Who Love,” which portrays an unrequited but intensely felt love, and “The Wise Woman,” which paints a similar picture of a woman contemplating an affair that never occurred. In “The Wise Woman,” the poet wonders about a woman “who can forego/ An hour so jewelled with delight.” She suggests that “She must have treasuries of joy/ That she can draw on day and night.” The poem concludes with rational reconciliation: “Or is it only that she feels/ How much more safe it is to lack/ A thing that time so often steals.” The collection also includes the poem “Wisdom,” which speaks most pointedly and poignantly of a mutually felt love that has existed for years without physical realization. It also expresses the lover’s reconciliation with the state of affairs: “It was as spring that never came,/ But we have lived enough to know/ What we have never had, remains;/ It is the things we have that go.”

According to biographer Margaret Haley Carpenter, many of Teasdale’s poems, especially later works, were written with poet John Hall Wheelock in mind. Among others, she points to “Appraisal” as being written specifically about Wheelock. Seen in this light, the imagery of the poem takes on a new aspect. The shift from domestic imagery to images drawn from uncontrollable nature in itself becomes part of the portrait: The man under discussion, who was never a part of Teasdale’s domestic life, was as elusive to her as “the moon on moving water.”

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