Teasdale Sara 18841933 Sara Teas

dale was an important voice of woman's poetry in the early 20th century (see female voice, female language). Her work, consistently appearing in monthly national magazines in the years before World War II, was well received by the public and critics alike. She identified with and is often compared to the 19th-century poet Elizabeth Barret Browning in theme, but her direct influence was the Victorian Christina Rossetti, about whom she had composed an unfinished biography.

Teasdale was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and lived in and out of sanitariums until her death from an overdose of sedatives. Though her work was fre quently in the public eye, Teasdale herself was not; she was a quiet and private person, sheltered throughout her life by parents, friends, and husband. In her teens she and her friends founded an amateur artists society for women called the Potters and published a handwritten magazine called the Potters Wheel, including original photography, sketches, poems, and prose. Her first book of poetry, dedicated to a popular actress of the time, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems, was published in 1907. She won the Poetry Society of America's First Prize for unpublished poetry in 1916 and, in 1918, was the first recipient of the Columbia Poetry Prize, later renamed the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Teasdale's poetry is classic and lyrical in nature, unaffected by the experimentation in theme, capitalization, and style of her contemporaries, such as T. S. eliot and E. E. cummings. She believed that traditional forms of poetry allowed the reader to understand the emotions of the poem more easily, without having to wade through modernism's new challenging structures and language. Her poems deal directly with universal emotions, centering on women's experiences.

Contemporary critics often praised the musical quality of Teasdale's poetry in both its rhythm and simplicity. Teasdale remarked, "I try to say what moves me—I never care to surprise my reader. . . .For me one of the greatest joys of poetry is to know it by heart—perhaps that is why the simple songlike poems appeal to me most—they are the easiest to learn" (qtd. in Carpenter 331). The poem "The Fountain" (1915) showcases the musical quality of her writing with its strict rhythm and rhyme patterns and subtle shifting of sound, as in "The fountain sang and sang / But the satyr never stirred." In this poem the first hints of the maturity appear, which she expresses in her later writing as she contrasts cyclical characteristics of nature with those of her own experiences. In her last published collection of poems, Strange Victory (1933), Teasdale makes this same connection between herself and her natural surroundings: In "The Tree" she describes herself "Resting, as a tree rests / After its leaves are gone." Teasdale's poetry explores themes of love, joy, death, sorrow, and nature, rather than delving into social or political commentary.


Carpenter, Margaret Haley. Sara Teasdale: A Biography. Norfolk, Va.: Pentelic, 1977. Drake, William. Sara Teasdale: Woman and Poet. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979.

Holly Salmon

"THE TEETH MOTHER NAKED AT LAST" ROBERT BLY (1986) One of the most important poems to come out of the Vietnam protest movement, "The Teeth Mother Naked at Last" represents Robert bly's seamless melding of political and contemplative poetry. Bly took inspiration from the political poems of Latin American poets, including Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo, and from American contemporaries Etheridge knight, Thomas mcgrath, James wright, and David ignatow, as well as the earlier American poets Walt Whitman and William Carlos WILLIAMS, all of whom wrote about political crises. In his 1980 essay "Leaping up into Political Poetry," Bly argues for the power of contemplative poetry to engage with political questions: "The life of the nation can be imagined also not as something deep inside our psyche, but as a psyche larger than the psyche of anyone living, a larger sphere, floating above everyone. In order for the poet to write a true political poem, he has to be able to have such a grasp of his own concerns that he can leave them for awhile, and then leap up into this other psyche" (100-101).

Bly's greatest political poem was written in three versions. The first appeared in his collection of the same name (1970), the second in Sleepers Joining Hands (1973), and the third in Selected Poems (1986). In all three versions, Bly is indebted to Spanish surrealism, and his own deep image style allows him to employ powerful dreamlike images in his description of political events. In his lament over the death of spirituality and thought, he evokes the strange image of books that do not want to be with us any longer: "New Testaments . . . escaping . . . dressed as women . . . / they slip out after dark." The images are at times brutally direct. Bly describes an attack on a hut by high explosives: "The six-hour-old infant puts his fists instinctively to his eyes to keep out the light." The final image of the attack is plain and unflinching: "Blood leaps on the vegetable walls."

For Bly, the psyche of America will pay for the atrocities and lies of the vietnam war. In a surreal passage Bly describes a speech by a lying president. Bly warns that this suggests the decline of the nation and asks, "What is there now to hold us to earth?"

Even the political arguments Bly offers take on a surreal uncanniness in their immediacy: Bly's poem is an angry lament, a prophetic warning about the psychic death that threatens America as it piles horror on horror and turns its wealth and power to the production of death.


Bly, Robert. "Leaping up into Political Poetry: An Essay." In Talking All Morning. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980, pp. 100-101.

-. "The Magic of the Muse," Interview with Robert Bly by Roar Bjonnes, Magical Blend Magazine. Available online. URL: www.magicalblend.com/library/readingroom/ interviews/bly.html. Downloaded September 2003.

Alan Bourassa

TENDER BUTTONS GERTRUDE STEIN (1914) Long before the popular success of her best-known work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), the publication of Tender Buttons insured Gertrude stein's place among the experimental poets of the modern era. Tender Buttons divides into three sections of prose poems, "Objects," "Food," and "Rooms," each a unique meditation on the relationships and resemblances that structure language and thought. Stein's poetic diction is dense and complex, employing repetition, puns, and ambiguity to create a playful tone of "joyous lightness and miraculous plentitude," according to Marianne DeKoven (229). Although the skepticism of early critics seemed to affirm Stein's own claim that "the creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic" (514), Stein was conscious that her experiments partook of a historical, literary lineage. Edmund Wilson aligns her emphasis on connotation and suggestion with the methods of T. S. eliot, William Butler Yeats, and the symbolists, while Stein herself credits Walt Whitman as her precursor. Tender Buttons's concise understatement also influenced such writers as Ernest Hemingway, and its experiments with words as objects developed alongside the avant-garde work of painters, including Pablo Picasso, who frequented her salon in Paris. In its playful linguistic innovation, Stein's poetry resembles the work of E. E. cummings, and it influenced later poets, including Frank o'hara of the new york school and the contemporary experiments of Charles bernstein of the LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

The "carefully wrong" verbal still lifes of Tender Buttons present the reader with no small challenge, argues Neil Schmidtz (165). Their playful, elusive logic seamlessly connects disparate words and senses, prompting some critics to suggest that the poems resemble riddles, and others to discern ambiguous connotations of lesbianism and gender polemics. But, more importantly, the poems also address the very difficulty they pose to readers, one of connection and correlation. How does "A Piece of Coffee" resemble "More of a double," or "A Cutlet" align with "blind agitation?" In what Schmidtz calls their "principled evasion of specific reference," Stein's brief lyrics address and enact the problem of relationship, a fundamental philosophical question of logic and language (165). For example, in "A Box," Stein desires "to have a green point not to red but to point again." Instead of pointing to its conventional counterpart, Stein's "green" points toward "pointing" itself, the act in which a color (or a word) directs us toward another one. Her subtle experiments pose an enormous question: Can language adequately address its own mechanisms? Stein's philosophical investigation into the nature of poetry and language underlies the entire volume; its vigor makes Tender Buttons a landmark of modernist experimentation (see modernism), a precursor to what would later become a particularly American vein of structural and linguistic innovation.


DeKoven, Marianne. "Breaking the Rigid Form of the Noun: Stein, Pound, Whitman and Modernist Poetry." In Critical Essays on Modernism, edited by Michael Hoffman. New York: G.K. Hall, 1992, pp. 225-234. Schmitz, Neil. Of Huck and Alice: Humorous Writing in American Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983, pp. 160-199. Stein, Gertrude. The Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, edited by Carl van Vechten. New York: Random House, 1962.

Wilson, Edmund. Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931.

Anthony Cuda

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