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Sara Teasdale (August 8, 1884 – January 29, 1933)

As reflected in her poetry, the strongest emotional relationships in Sara Teasdale's life were with women.

Teasdale might be viewed as a casualty of the struggle between propriety and passion that marked late Victorian social mores. Born in St. Louis into a genteel middle-class family, she was overprotected by her mother, who instilled in her young daughter an anxiety about her own body--its physical inadequacy and its ailments--that was to affect both her work and her personal relationships for most of her brief life.

Because of her mother's fears, Teasdale was educated at home until she was nine, and, left to herself, she retreated into her own dreamy world; she spent hours fantasizing about the romantic possibilities of her own life. Keeping reality at a tasteful distance became a habit of her life and of her art.

Although she cultivated romantic obsessions about men, the strongest relationships in her life were with women. After completing her college education at Hosmer Hall in St. Louis, she and several other young women formed a literary association called The Potters, which published a monthly magazine, The Potter's Wheel, in which Teasdale's early poems appeared.

Many of her early works were addressed to particular women, whose identities were disguised. Her first major work was a set of effusive sonnets in praise of Eleonora Duse, which was included in her first collection, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems (1907).

In 1908, Teasdale formed an intense friendship with Marion Cummings Stanley, with whom she was able for the first time to discuss matters such as her own ill health and her curiosity about sex. Their friendship temporarily released Teasdale from the constrictions of her rigid upbringing, and she commemorated it in a poem entitled "Song," which concludes "For all my world is in your arms, / My sun and stars are you" (from Helen of Troy and Other Poems, 1911).

At the same time, Teasdale was also carrying on a correspondence that mixed flirtation and serious poetic debate with John Myers O'Hara, a young poet living in New York. This was the first of a series of passionate relationships with men that were conducted by Teasdale almost entirely from afar. They corresponded for over three years before they finally met face to face, and the meeting was a disappointment for both of them.

Teasdale traveled widely although while abroad she spent much of her time abed with one illness or another. When she settled in New York, she formed friendships with Jessie Rittenhouse (a founder of the Poetry Society) and John Hall Wheelock, another young poet, with whom she fell seriously in love. His unwillingness to commit himself to her seems to have been part of the attraction, and despite that handicap, they remained friends for the remainder of her life.

Her poetry was becoming more widely known, and generally praised, and with the publication of Rivers to the Sea (1915), she was acknowledged as a significant American writer.

Teasdale's physical and emotional health, however, remained frail. As she approached the age of thirty, she became almost frantic to be married, and indeed at one point, she had several suitors to choose from. The poet Vachel Lindsay pursued her with passion and ardent verse, but he was too wild for her, and she settled for the businessman Ernst Filsinger, a fellow St. Louisan.

She was full of hope about this union, but in the end, she was unable to reconcile her romantic fantasies with the realities of married life. "I am not yours, not lost in you," she wrote in a poem composed just before their wedding in 1914. And afterward, "why . . . alone for me / is there no ecstasy?" ("Midnight Rain," 1915). She sued Filsinger for divorce in 1929.

Teasdale's emotional life became more and more unstable, and she fell into deep depressions from which she gradually lost the will to extract herself. The poems in Flame and Shadow (1920) and Dark of the Moon (1926) are darker than her earlier, simpler lyrics, and many of them deal with her lifelong preoccupation with death.

The last great friendship of her life was with Margaret Conklin, a young student who came into Teasdale's life in 1926 and wooed her almost like a lover. Teasdale saw in Conklin the reincarnation of herself as a child, and their relationship was profound and complex. If there was a lesbian component to it, however, it was probably unacknowledged.

In January 1933, at the age of forty-eight, weighed down by despair, Teasdale ingested a large number of sedatives and was found dead in her bathtub the following morning. Strange Victory, including a poem to Conklin, was published later that year.

Citation Information
Author: Wadsworth, Ann
Entry Title: Teasdale, Sara
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated July 25, 2011
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/teasdale_s.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date January 29, 2013
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

Masquerade: Queer Poetry in America to the End of World War II by Jim Elledge
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Indiana University Press (March 3, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0253216346
ISBN-13: 978-0253216342
Amazon: Masquerade: Queer Poetry in America to the End of World War II

Masquerade is the most comprehensive anthology yet published of poetry by American gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons. It includes representative poems from more than 100 writers from pre-colonial times to the end of the Second World War. The anthology begins with selections of anonymous texts from the oral traditions of Hawaii and Native America, followed by voodoo chants and cowboy songs (with a few limericks thrown in for good measure). The selections are arranged by the year of the poet’s birth and include samplings of poetry by a racially and ethnically diverse group of men and women. Contemporary readers will know the work of some of these poets, such as Gertrude Stein and Walt Whitman. Other poets, such as George Santayana and Adah Isaacs Menken, will be strangers to most. In all, these poets created a rich heritage of verse that has been for the most part masked throughout the history of American literature.

More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics


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