A 1920s Village poet writes of heartbreak

teasdale“History has not been kind to Sara Teasdale,” wrote Katha Pollitt in a 1979 review in The New York Times.

But “in the teens and 1920s, her rhymed lyrics of love and loss were hugely popular—’her volumes were keepsakes and valentines, the co-ed’s unfailing companion, and the Bible of every disappointed lover,'” Pollitt quotes poet Louis Untermeyer.

VachellindsayBorn in St. Louis in 1884, Teasdale was a sheltered child who left home for Chicago and began publishing verse that was well-crafted, evocative, even fragile and focused on matters of the heart.

She also had an affair with poet Vachel Lindsay (left), but declined to marry him.

In 1914, newly wed to a businessman, she arrived in New York, living on Central Park West before moving to Greenwich Village.

Many of the poems she wrote through the 1920s use New York as a backdrop for heartbreak.

In “Union Square,” she writes:

Onefifthavenue“With the man I love who loves me not
I walked in the street-lamps’ flare;
We watched the world go home that night
In a flood through Union Square”

Summer Night, Riverside” also tackles heartache:

“In the wild soft summer darkness
How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.”

Sarateasdale2Her take on circling the block around Gramercy Park with a romantic partner, wondering why the gates were locked and the park private, ends with this:

“Oh heavy gates that fate has locked
To bar the joy we may not win,
Peace would go out forevermore
If we should dare to enter in.”

Like so many other poets, Teasdale battled depression. She won a Pulitzer in 1918, but when she learned Lindsay had killed himself in 1931, she was deeply affected.

“She divorced in 1929 and lived the rest of her life as a semi-invalid,” states Poets.org. Teasdale committed suicide in 1933 by overdosing on sleeping pills in her apartment at One Fifth Avenue (above).

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3 Responses to “A 1920s Village poet writes of heartbreak”

  1. Frank M Says:

    Is there any indication that she may have been a member of the Pen and Brush Club which was located at 16 East 10th Street?

    Thanks.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I didn’t come across that, but I’ll look around….

  3. Andrew Porter Says:

    Her “There Will Come Soft Rains” is quoted in Ray Bradbury’s own short story of the same name, about a house standing in a city devastated by a nuclear war, and may be her most-reprinted poem.

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