(Poets and Poetry in America)

Sara Teasdale is distinguished as a lyric poet who evokes moods related to romantic love, the beauty of nature, and death. The substance of much of her early poetry is longing and dreams, and the image of the fantasy lover is virtually omnipresent: a lover who is elusive and disembodied, like the male figures in the work of the lonely Emily Brontë.

Restraint and renunciation

A major theme, a concomitant of the fantasy lover image in Teasdale’s poetry, is delight in restraint and renunciation, “the kiss ungiven and long desired.” This delight in restraint has its origins in four strands of Teasdale’s life and reading that interweave in her poetry: the Romantic tradition of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and, later, Christina Rossetti; her devout Puritan background; her ill health, which separated her from full participation in life and led her to imagine rather than to participate in experience; and the role of women in the early twentieth century. This delight in the unattainable is evident in her early poems, such as “The Look,” one of her most widely reprinted poems: “Strephon’s kiss was lost in jest,/ Robins’s lost in play/ But the kiss in Colin’s eyes/ Haunts me night and day.” Though long an admirer of Eleonora Duse, it is said that when she had the opportunity actually to see Duse dance, she chose not to. It was very typical of Teasdale; the idea of Duse’s art was enough for her.

This theme of renunciation in her life and poetry is related to her religious background. Though religious sentiment was never overtly expressed in her poetry, she followed a strict moral code all her life. Her official biographer, Margaret Haley Carpenter, notes that Teasdale was never tempted to enter the bohemian lifestyle of some of her contemporaries even though Teasdale herself noted that the...

(The entire section is 770 words.)