Carol Schoen: On "I Shall Not Care"

The attitudes of the Poetry Society, though, were essentially conservative, following [Jessie] Rittenhouse’s view that poetry should reflect change but avoid the revolutionary; and their discussions of Teasdale’s work reflected the standards that seem quaint today. For example, at a reading at a Poetry Society meeting, her splendid lyric “I Shall Not Care” was the subject of an argument over whether it was, as one member described it, “charming,” or as Joyce Kilmer called it, “tragic,” or even as a third said, “It has a humorous effect on me because the writer is evidently playing with serious emotions. He’s trying to be tragic, and he knows he’s trying to be tragic.” Modern readers would recognize that it is precisely the juxtaposition of these emotions that produces the poem’s force, but the standards of the day called for a singleness of mood and purpose, and critics attempted to categorize poems as one form or another.

This poem, reminiscent of Rossetti’s “When I Am Dead, My Dearest,” is one of Teasdale’s most popular, not only in her own day but for generations after. It achieves such an extraordinary harmony so liquid that its sound patterns threaten to engulf its content.

            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.

The poem also presents a pattern that Teasdale used to great advantage--the announcement of a position or a description of a scene in the opening stanza, resolved with an unexpected or ironic twist in the closing. The brief half-line ending of each stanza, the standard practice in the Sapphic tradition, lends a sense of weightiness and finality to each part of the poem. Her adeptness with this particular form was so great that, in fact, it threatened to make the extended reading of many of her poems together seem monotonous and formulaic, often obscuring the real virtues of any particular one. 

 

Sara Teasdale. Boston: G.K. Hall and Company, 1986. 55-56.

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Criticism Overview
Title Carol Schoen: On "I Shall Not Care" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Carol Schoen Criticism Target Sara Teasdale
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 28 Jul 2014
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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