Jeanne Larsen: “Lowell, Teasdale, Wylie, Millay, and Bogan”

Teasdale’s work is charged with a deceptive air of spontaneity; it shines with a deceptively clear gloss. But—as her notebooks and letters reveal—the art and effort were in fact considerable. And the poems themselves remind us that the caged bird’s song is not always a simple one.

Teasdale achieved striking, subtle effects from metrical variations and from the use of varied line-length. But in the early years of her poetic maturity she tuned her ear to the cadences of vers libre, and learned from the new way of writing a great deal about word choice and the power of the image. From then on she occasionally chose to use a musically adept free verse.

Whatever the form, her lyrics focused on the expression—and examination—of human feeling. In a 1919 essay she states, “The poem is written to free the poet from an emotional burden.” Teasdale lived and wrote in a time of enormous social change, and her poetry draws into question notions of the previous era about what was proper in women’s lives—especially, emotional lives—and women’s art.

In her own life, deftly though she managed it, that questioning was costly. Her biographers show that it was also unconscious or quickly repressed, as Teasdale clung to appearances of the old order in the day of the New Woman. At age twenty-four, living in her parents’ home, she professed impatience with women who chose self-realization over self-sacrifice, off-handedly citing the heroine of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. But even in her earliest collection of poems, Teasdale writes to an exalted ideal lover, “I bid you awake at dawn and discover / I have gone my way and left you free.” For all that this departure is said to be a “gift” that breaks the speaker’s heart, the slam of the door as Nora leaves the doll’s house in search of her own freedom seems to echo—contradictory and poignant—between these lines.

Larsen, Jeanne. “Lowell, Teasdale, Wylie, Millay, and Bogan.” The Columbia History of American Poetry. Ed. Jay Parini. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 203-232.

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Criticism Overview
Title Jeanne Larsen: “Lowell, Teasdale, Wylie, Millay, and Bogan” Type of Content General Poet Criticism
Criticism Author Jeanne Larsen Criticism Target Sara Teasdale
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 30 Jul 2014
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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