Sara Teasdale’s “Appraisal,” a metrical lyric poem, displays remarkable complexity despite the surface clarity of its nineteen lines. The poem falls within the tradition of love lyrics that celebrate rather than critique, probe, or explore. As a consequence, it creates poetic dissonance from its first line: “Never think she loves him wholly.” Simultaneously the reader learns that the loved one of the poem, a man, is under critical scrutiny and that the lover, a woman, is the scrutinizer. The reader also immediately understands that the poet is distancing herself from her subjects: She presents her third-person lovers as if under a bright light, without coyness or deception. Even though the literary vehicle is a lyric poem, her intent to make a statement is clear. “Appraisal,” the poet seems to say, will not be another simple evocation of a notoriously elusive emotional state. The worldly and possibly cynical connotations of the title itself reinforce this.
The blanket statements of the first two lines, “Never think she loves him wholly,/ Never believe her love is blind,” could stand as universal declarations. The “she” could be any woman and the “him” any man. From these generalizations, which suggest the existence of shortcomings in the loved one, the poem moves swiftly to particulars. The shortcomings are defined and placed in context: “All his faults are locked securely/ In a closet of her mind,” the poet says first. She...
(The entire section is 402 words.)