The prior post introduced you to the first of my Three Muses.
Before I bring out the second Muse of this trio, here (as promised in the previous post) are more of my favorite threesomes:
MOVIES: An American in Paris, Hudson Hawk, The Princess Bride
TELEVISION SHOWS: Doctor Who, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Star Trek: The Next Generation
PAINTINGS: Cliff Walk at Pourville (Claude Monet), The Persistence of Memory (Salvador Dali), 1949-A-No.1 (Clyfford Still)
Please allow me now to bring on to the stage, my Second Muse, and how we met.
This is my story.
I wish I could relate to you some profound epiphany or mad-cap adventure that led me to American poet Sara Teasdale, but I can only meekly identify an ordinary crossword puzzle as the culprit.
In the summer between my junior and senior year of college, I spent my afternoons as an intern for CRIS, the Chicagoland Radio Information Service (which apparently is still around). At this internship, my job was to read newspaper and magazine articles over the airwaves for the blind. People without sight could subscribe to this service, receive a special tuner, and hear CRIS’s offerings.
To get to and from the CRIS studio in downtown Chicago from my apartment in Evanston, I used that modern wonder of urban public transportation, the “el” train. The one-way journey was about an hour and that gave me plenty of time to match wits against the daily crossword puzzle of the Chicago Tribune.
As it happened, I was also into poetry during this time and was absorbed in the works of Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and John Donne. In one of those quirks of inspiration that defy explanation as to their origins, I decided to expand my horizons and discover a poet new to me. I further decided to let the daily crossword puzzle be my guide. I further further decided that whichever purveyor of verse showed up next as a clue in the Trib‘s puzzle would be my next target.
A few days later, I was introduced to the woman who would become my Second Muse when I read the following clue for 36 Across, “Poetess Teasdale” (4 letters).
Answer = Sara
Over the next week, I scoured my local library (remember, this was in the days before Google, even before the Web) for any and all works of this native of St. Louis. I finally found three of her books of poetry which were Rivers to the Sea, Love Songs (for which she would win the Pulitzer Prize), and Flame and Shadow. I tore through this trio and was astonished. For me (and please remember that Hudson Hawk is one of my favorite movies, so you know I am already a tad, as the British say, “touched”), the beauty of Teasdale is her sheer simplicity. She tackles the same subjects as other poets before and since but I maintain that it is her lack of artificial devices that makes the emotion behind her words more accessible to the reader. There are many examples that I could offer up, but I will start with “Joy”:
I am wild, I will sing to the trees,
I will sing to the stars in the sky,
I love, I am loved, he is mine,
Now at last I can die!
I am sandaled with wind and with flame,
I have heart-fire and singing to give,
I can tread on the grass or the stars,
Now at last I can live!
The simplicity of this poem is that for all of its words, only three are not monosyllabic. Yet this plethora of one-syllable words accurately describes the pure and unfettered joy one has when in love and (here is the important part) when one is loved back. When your love is reciprocated, you feel that you can both die happy and live forever.
With a dissenting point of view, I offer up “I Shall Not Care”:
When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Tho’ you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.
I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.
In those two poems, the emotions of love, ecstasy, and loss are obvious to tease out. Teasdale does not have to resort to references to Irish mythology (like Yeats), Greek history (like Browning), or to navigational instruments (like Donne) to convey her thoughts.
Much as one can explore a variety of themes about humanity in the works of Shakespeare, Teasdale’s poetry offers a kaleidoscope of patterns, feelings, and emotions mainly revolving around the subject of love. Whether love is joyous, wide-eyed, despairing, ending, tragic, or painfully beautiful, you can find a poem by her to match your mood. Given my roller-coaster history of romance, I have found the poetry of Teasdale to be a solace, an inspiration, a kindred spirit, and a beacon of hope. Her writings inspire me to find the emotion behind the story. I may not succeed, but the true failure is to not make the attempt.
That’s my story.
I leave you with a poem of mine that is an homage to Sara Teasdale’s “Child, Child” that takes her theme and gives it a modern touch.
Troll, troll, flame as you will,
Spew your bile, vomit your venomous ill;
The hate that flows from your green heart
Causes many a wounding thread to start.
Your poisonous words show all too well
The online world is a dank e-hell.
Troll, troll, enflame while you can,
Attack all posters, taunt the admin’s ban;
Some of us know that the fear you hide
Covers the broken child that lies inside.
Turn from your loathing, we’ll call it even
And together we can build a Net Eden.
P.S. If you are curious how I spent my mornings during that particular Chicago summer…well, that’s a story for another day.