To anyone remembering Sara Teasdale’s decade and a half of popularity and honors following Love Songs’ taking the 1917 Pulitzer prize for poetry, it seems pathetic—some would prefer to say “ironic”—to recall how sharply death meant a falling off in critical attention to the poetry. One suspects that five years’ earlier publication of the Collected Poems (1937) would have meant a consideration which posthumous appearance insured in only fractional degree. And to some of us not given to genuflection before the curious gods of the mid-century, there seems implied a certain injustice: sorry pendant to a history in most respects equable enough.
That history began in St. Louis, where Miss Teasdale was born August 8, 1884, coming of a line of forebears that included, maternally, Major Simon Willard, founder of Concord, Massachusetts; and it is pleasant to notice that the Midwest, through William Marion Reedy’s Mirror, was early willing to acclaim her. Not a strong child, she was educated at home and in a private school, Hosmer Hall (St. Louis); but by 1905 she was traveling in Europe and the Near East, and 1912 saw a summer with Jessie B. Rittenhouse, the poet-anthologist, in Switzerland and Italy: an experience that presumably underlies such lyrics as “Song at Capri.” On December 19, 1914, she married Ernst B. Filsinger, whom Mr. Louis Untermeyer (in his reminiscences, not untouched with an amused malice, in From Another World) was later to describe as “a little like the head-usher in a funeral parlor.” The Filsingers moved to New York in 1916, and New York remained Sara Teasdale’s permanent home thereafter when she was not living in Europe or the American West or Southwest. But the marriage ended in a Reno divorce in 1929; Mr. Untermeyer has commented, “She did not resent Ernst; she resented marriage.” Nevertheless, her reported complaint was that her husband “devoted all his attention to business.”
Apparently suffering from increasing unhappiness, as well as real or fancied ill health, Miss Teasdale went to England in the summer of 1932 to gather material for a biography of Christina Rossetti, whose work is said first to have stimulated her own interest in poetry. Stricken with pneumonia in London, in August, she is said to have been troubled by “a nervous ailment” thereafter and to have discussed with a nurse ways of committing suicide. In any event, she was found dead on January 29, 1933, in her bathtub at 1 Fifth Avenue, New York; according to Mr. Untermeyer, she had “swallowed an overdose of sleeping tablets.”
The Arizona Quarterly 13.1 (1957): 62-66.