The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Teasdale achieves part of her effect by playing against expectations, beginning with her choice of the anacreontic for a lyric form. Conventionally, anacreontics speak of the pleasures of wine, women, and song. In tone, the lyrics rarely move beyond the celebratory and joyous to the critical or even realistic. While Teasdale does address the matter of love, she chooses realism as her mode. Moreover, she delays any sense of celebration until the latter half of the poem. Anacreontics are usually in trochaic tetrameter, which refers to the poem having lines of four two-syllable feet with stresses falling on the first syllables. In “Appraisal,” the poet uses this meter, although not rigidly. Teasdale, one of the most consciously musical of twentieth century poets, employs several devices to achieve rhythmic variety, including the measured substitution of iambs for trochees. Many of the lines are varied by catalexis (the dropping of the final, unaccented syllable). Strikingly, the seventh line, “Limp and streaked with rain,” has only three feet, perhaps as a means of underlining the inadequacy or insufficiency being discussed.

Teasdale supports the two halves of the poem with different sets of imagery. In the first listing of shortcomings, she uses metaphors that are anything but romantic: She speaks of faded cloth and old clothing and of a closet that conceals the unwanted. The subsequent list of strengths then adopts terms of the natural world, reclaiming the romantic...

(The entire section is 609 words.)