Sara Teasdale 1884-1933
American poet and editor.
Teasdale's poetry is noted for its lyric simplicity and delicate craftsmanship. Viewed in its entirety, her work chronicles a woman's emotional development from youthful idealism, through gradual disillusionment, to the final acceptance of death. Though considered a minor poet, Teasdale was quite popular in her day. She received a Pulitzer Prize in 1918 for her collection of poems titled Love Songs.
Teasdale was born August 8, 1884, in St. Louis, Missouri. The youngest child of well-to-do parents, she was a sheltered, physically fragile child. As a young woman, she joined a group of creative women called the Potters, publishing her first poetry in their monthly magazine, The Potter's Wheel. She gained her first significant exposure after being discovered by William Marion Reedy, who published some of her work in his widely read Mirror. As her literary reputation grew, she became part of the circle surrounding Harriet Monroe and the influential periodical, Poetry, in 1913. After marrying businessman Ernest Filsinger, the young couple moved to New York. Intensifying emotional depression characterized her later years, reflected in the dark verse collected in Love Songs and Flame and Shadow. After the death of her father, her divorce from Filsinger in 1929, and her friend Vachel Lindsay's suicide in December 1931, she fell into a deep depression. On January 29, 1933, she committed suicide.
Teasdale's earliest influence was Christina Rossetti, whose lyric style and feminine point of view Teasdale greatly admired. Her first collection, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems, illustrates the influence of Rossetti, Teasdale's early attraction to beauty, her sympathy with Sappho, and her admiration for the actress Eleanora Duse. The steady maturation of her lyric art becomes evident in her third collection, Rivers to the Sea, where she no longer speaks through ancient figures, and the emotions expressed are clearly her own. As her life progressed, Teasdale's veneration of beauty and love gave way to frustration and a preoccupation with death. Torn between her desire for love and her need for solitude, she slowly withdrew from an active life and became increasingly unhappy. The effects of this conflict, which had persisted since childhood, are clearly evident in Dark of the Moon. Although her anguish is still obvious in Strange Victory, published posthumously, the poet demonstrates in this collection her confidence in the peaceful release found in death.
Commentators note that Teasdale was unaffected by the stylistic innovations in the works of her literary peers. Rejecting the experimental verse forms they used to examine the shallowness of twentieth-century life, she chose simple quatrains to explore her themes of love and beauty. Critics whose affinities lay with other styles dismissed this pure lyricism as sentimental and anachronistic. Although she is criticized for her limited range and conventional imagery, her best work is praised for its verbal precision and timeless exploration of human emotion. New York Times Book Review critic Percy A. Hutchinson praised Dark of the Moon and “the exquisite refinement of Sara Teasdale's lyric poetry,” which “shows how near Sara Teasdale can come to art's ultimate goals.” The reviewer J. Overmyer commenting in Choice upon the release of the 1984 collection Mirror of the Heart: Poems of Sara Teasdale that “simply stated thoughts are complex … and reverberate in the mind.” While very popular in her time—both critically and commercially—Teasdale's work has fallen into relative obscurity in recent years.