Sara Teasdale was born on August 4, 1884, to St. Louis bluebloods John Warren Teasdale and Mary Elizabeth Willard (forty-five and forty, respectively). As the last sibling of two brothers and a sister who were twenty, fifteen, and seventeen years older, Sara was doted on by “five” parents. This attention in childhood was both nurturing and sheltering. Her adult years were spent in the frustration of never being able to recreate her youth. As a teen, she wrote poetry with her close-knit cocoon of friends, and her principal poetic influences were Christina Rossetti and the Greeks. The affluent Teasdale traveled widely in the United States and abroad. In 1907, she self-published her first volume of verse, Sonnets to Duse (referring to actress Eleonora Duse). In 1912, America’s poetry renaissance began with Harriet Monroe’s Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, based in Chicago. Poetry became a powerfully influential venue for the discovery of new voices who were able to showcase not just a poem or two but six or seven. In addition to featuring Teasdale, who would spend more and more time in Chicago, other area poets published in Poetry were Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, and Vachel Lindsay.
Teasdale met Lindsay, a poet and performance artist—his dramatized recitals were legendary—in 1912 and began a futile courtship. He dedicated his books to her, and she is the “Princess” in his “The Chinese Nightingale.” Lindsay was eccentric, flamboyant, and sometimes overwhelmingly enthusiastic—all of which were outward symptoms of his great insecurity. Teasdale admired him and did care for him, but his demeanor and more rustic background did not match Teasdale’s own status as represented by her parents, who did not approve of him. Lindsay persisted, and Teasdale, in 1914. . .married businessman Ernst Filsinger to finally dissuade Lindsay. Nonetheless, Lindsay and Teasdale remained friends. Her marriage was safe and kept her in the affluence in which she grew up. Still, Filsinger was not a fellow artist, and as Teasdale’s fame as a poet grew, her safe choice conflicted with her new world of artists and intellectuals.
In 1915, Teasdale’s Rivers to the Sea received great critical praise. Her tall, willowy, fragile presence encouraged many admirers, and fellow poets wrote poems to and about her (Witter Bynner, John Hall Wheelock, etc.). Teasdale’s verse thrived, as did Lindsay’s, who remained devoted to her. In 1917, her Love Songs was a great success for a book of verse, appearing in five editions and winning the Columbia Poetry Prize. Teasdale’s frail health (much of which may actually have been symptoms of depression) became a greater factor in her life. In 1929, despite no outward hints of dissatisfaction, she divorced Filsinger. Her biographer [Margaret Carpenter] wrote: “There were two conflicting desires within the poet’s nature that had been battling for supremacy since childhood. One was…to love and be loved…the other was the old wish for solitude where her spirit found its greatest renewal” (Carpenter 289). Teasdale may also have regretted not having allowed herself to love an artist.
When the depression era came in, lyrical poetry went out. In October 1931, Vachel Lindsay killed himself. On January 29, 1933, so did Sara Teasdale.
Carpenter, Margaret Haley. Sara Teasdale: A Biography. New York: Schulte Publishing Co., 1960.
American Women Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Laurie Champion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 343-344.