Flame and Shadow
by Sara Teasdale
"Recois la flamme ou l'ombre
De tous mes jours."
Part IX: By the Sea
- Sun-swept beaches with a light wind blowing
- From the immense blue circle of the sea,
- And the soft thunder where long waves whiten --
- These were the same for Sappho as for me.
- Two thousand years -- much has gone by forever,
- Change takes the gods and ships and speech of men --
- But here on the beaches that time passes over
- The heart aches now as then.
- Oh Earth, you are too dear to-night,
- How can I sleep while all around
- Floats rainy fragrance and the far
- Deep voice of the ocean that talks to the ground?
- Oh Earth, you gave me all I have,
- I love you, I love you, -- oh what have I
- That I can give you in return --
- Except my body after I die?
Like Barley Bending
- Like barley bending
- In low fields by the sea,
- Singing in hard wind
- Like barley bending
- And rising again,
- So would I, unbroken,
- Rise from pain;
- So would I softly,
- Day long, night long,
- Change my sorrow
- Into song.
Oh Day of Fire and Sun
- Oh day of fire and sun,
- Pure as a naked flame,
- Blue sea, blue sky and dun
- Sands where he spoke my name;
- Laughter and hearts so high
- That the spirit flew off free,
- Lifting into the sky
- Diving into the sea;
- Oh day of fire and sun
- Like a crystal burning,
- Slow days go one by one,
- But you have no returning.
I Thought of You
- I thought of you and how you love this beauty,
- And walking up the long beach all alone
- I heard the waves breaking in measured thunder
- As you and I once heard their monotone.
- Around me were the echoing dunes, beyond me
- The cold and sparkling silver of the sea --
- We two will pass through death and ages lengthen
- Before you hear that sound again with me.
On the Dunes
- If there is any life when death is over,
- These tawny beaches will know much of me,
- I shall come back, as constant and as changeful
- As the unchanging, many-colored sea.
- If life was small, if it has made me scornful,
- Forgive me; I shall straighten like a flame
- In the great calm of death, and if you want me
- Stand on the sea-ward dunes and call my name.
- I knew you thought of me all night,
- I knew, though you were far away;
- I felt your love blow over me
- As if a dark wind-riven sea
- Drenched me with quivering spray.
- There are so many ways to love
- And each way has its own delight --
- Then be content to come to me
- Only as spray the beating sea
- Drives inland through the night.
If Death is Kind
- Perhaps if Death is kind, and there can be returning,
- We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
- And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
- Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.
- We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
- And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
- Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
- We shall be happy, for the dead are free.
- When I am all alone
- Envy me most,
- Then my thoughts flutter round me
- In a glimmering host;
- Some dressed in silver,
- Some dressed in white,
- Each like a taper
- Blossoming light;
- Most of them merry,
- Some of them grave,
- Each of them lithe
- As willows that wave;
- Some bearing violets,
- Some bearing bay,
- One with a burning rose
- Hidden away --
- When I am all alone
- Envy me then,
- For I have better friends
- Than women and men.
- People that I meet and pass
- In the city's broken roar,
- Faces that I lose so soon
- And have never found before,
- Do you know how much you tell
- In the meeting of our eyes,
- How ashamed I am, and sad
- To have pierced your poor disguise?
- Secrets rushing without sound
- Crying from your hiding places --
- Let me go, I cannot bear
- The sorrow of the passing faces.
- -- People in the restless street,
- Can it be, oh can it be
- In the meeting of our eyes
- That you know as much of me?
Evening: New York
- Blue dust of evening over my city,
- Over the ocean of roofs and the tall towers
- Where the window-lights, myriads and myriads,
- Bloom from the walls like climbing flowers.
- "She can't be unhappy," you said,
- "The smiles are like stars in her eyes,
- And her laugh is thistledown
- Around her low replies."
- "Is she unhappy?" you said --
- But who has ever known
- Another's heartbreak --
- All he can know is his own;
- And she seems hushed to me,
- As hushed as though
- Her heart were a hunter's fire
- Smothered in snow.
The Silent Battle
(In Memory of J. W. T. Jr.)
- He was a soldier in that fight
- Where there is neither flag nor drum,
- And without sound of musketry
- The stealthy foemen come.
- Year in, year out, by day and night
- They forced him to a slow retreat,
- And for his gallant fight alone
- No fife was blown, and no drum beat.
- In winter fog, in gathering mist
- The gray grim battle had its end --
- And at the very last we knew
- His enemy had turned his friend.
- If I could keep my innermost Me
- Fearless, aloof and free
- Of the least breath of love or hate,
- And not disconsolate
- At the sick load of sorrow laid on men;
- If I could keep a sanctuary there
- Free even of prayer,
- If I could do this, then,
- With quiet candor as I grew more wise
- I could look even at God with grave forgiving eyes.
- In the pull of the wind I stand, lonely,
- On the deck of a ship, rising, falling,
- Wild night around me, wild water under me,
- Whipped by the storm, screaming and calling.
- Earth is hostile and the sea hostile,
- Why do I look for a place to rest?
- I must fight always and die fighting
- With fear an unhealing wound in my breast.
- When I went to look at what had long been hidden,
- A jewel laid long ago in a secret place,
- I trembled, for I thought to see its dark deep fire --
- But only a pinch of dust blew up in my face.
- I almost gave my life long ago for a thing
- That has gone to dust now, stinging my eyes --
- It is strange how often a heart must be broken
- Before the years can make it wise.
The Long Hill
- I must have passed the crest a while ago
- And now I am going down --
- Strange to have crossed the crest and not to know,
- But the brambles were always catching the hem of my gown.
- All the morning I thought how proud I should be
- To stand there straight as a queen,
- Wrapped in the wind and the sun with the world under me --
- But the air was dull, there was little I could have seen.
- It was nearly level along the beaten track
- And the brambles caught in my gown --
- But it's no use now to think of turning back,
- The rest of the way will be only going down.
- The panther wind
- Leaps out of the night,
- The snake of lightning
- Is twisting and white,
- The lion of thunder
- Roars -- and we
- Sit still and content
- Under a tree --
- We have met fate together
- And love and pain,
- Why should we fear
- The wrath of the rain!
In the End
- All that could never be said,
- All that could never be done,
- Wait for us at last
- Somewhere back of the sun;
- All the heart broke to forego
- Shall be ours without pain,
- We shall take them as lightly as girls
- Pluck flowers after rain.
- And when they are ours in the end
- Perhaps after all
- The skies will not open for us
- Nor heaven be there at our call.
It Will Not Change
- It will not change now
- After so many years;
- Life has not broken it
- With parting or tears;
- Death will not alter it,
- It will live on
- In all my songs for you
- When I am gone.
- Remember me as I was then;
- Turn from me now, but always see
- The laughing shadowy girl who stood
- At midnight by the flowering tree,
- With eyes that love had made as bright
- As the trembling stars of the summer night.
- Turn from me now, but always hear
- The muted laughter in the dew
- Of that one year of youth we had,
- The only youth we ever knew --
- Turn from me now, or you will see
- What other years have done to me.
- If you have forgotten water lilies floating
- On a dark lake among mountains in the afternoon shade,
- If you have forgotten their wet, sleepy fragrance,
- Then you can return and not be afraid.
- But if you remember, then turn away forever
- To the plains and the prairies where pools are far apart,
- There you will not come at dusk on closing water lilies,
- And the shadow of mountains will not fall on your heart.
Did You Never Know
- Did you never know, long ago, how much you loved me --
- That your love would never lessen and never go?
- You were young then, proud and fresh-hearted,
- You were too young to know.
- Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it
- Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year --
- Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking,
- I know your secret, my dear, my dear.
- When they see my songs
- They will sigh and say,
- "Poor soul, wistful soul,
- Lonely night and day."
- They will never know
- All your love for me
- Surer than the spring,
- Stronger than the sea;
- Hidden out of sight
- Like a miser's gold
- In forsaken fields
- Where the wind is cold.
- I thought of you when I was wakened
- By a wind that made me glad and afraid
- Of the rushing, pouring sound of the sea
- That the great trees made.
- One thought in my mind went over and over
- While the darkness shook and the leaves were thinned --
- I thought it was you who had come to find me,
- You were the wind.
- Oh to be free of myself,
- With nothing left to remember,
- To have my heart as bare
- As a tree in December;
- Resting, as a tree rests
- After its leaves are gone,
- Waiting no more for a rain at night
- Nor for the red at dawn;
- But still, oh so still
- While the winds come and go,
- With no more fear of the hard frost
- Or the bright burden of snow;
- And heedless, heedless
- If anyone pass and see
- On the white page of the sky
- Its thin black tracery.
- Now at last I have come to see what life is,
- Nothing is ever ended, everything only begun,
- And the brave victories that seem so splendid
- Are never really won.
- Even love that I built my spirit's house for,
- Comes like a brooding and a baffled guest,
- And music and men's praise and even laughter
- Are not so good as rest.
- My heart cried like a beaten child
- Ceaselessly all night long;
- I had to take my own cries
- And thread them into a song.
- One was a cry at black midnight
- And one when the first cock crew --
- My heart was like a beaten child,
- But no one ever knew.
- Life, you have put me in your debt
- And I must serve you long --
- But oh, the debt is terrible
- That must be paid in song.
- I am alone, in spite of love,
- In spite of all I take and give --
- In spite of all your tenderness,
- Sometimes I am not glad to live.
- I am alone, as though I stood
- On the highest peak of the tired gray world,
- About me only swirling snow,
- Above me, endless space unfurled;
- With earth hidden and heaven hidden,
- And only my own spirit's pride
- To keep me from the peace of those
- Who are not lonely, having died.
- In the last year I have learned
- How few men are worth my trust;
- I have seen the friend I loved
- Struck by death into the dust,
- And fears I never knew before
- Have knocked and knocked upon my door --
- "I shall hope little and ask for less,"
- I said, "There is no happiness."
- I have grown wise at last -- but how
- Can I hide the gleam on the willow-bough,
- Or keep the fragrance out of the rain
- Now that April is here again?
- When maples stand in a haze of fire
- What can I say to the old desire,
- What shall I do with the joy in me
- That is born out of agony?
- So long as my spirit still
- Is glad of breath
- And lifts its plumes of pride
- In the dark face of death;
- While I am curious still
- Of love and fame,
- Keeping my heart too high
- For the years to tame,
- How can I quarrel with fate
- Since I can see
- I am a debtor to life,
- Not life to me?
The Wind in the Hemlock
- Steely stars and moon of brass,
- How mockingly you watch me pass!
- You know as well as I how soon
- I shall be blind to stars and moon,
- Deaf to the wind in the hemlock tree,
- Dumb when the brown earth weighs on me.
- With envious dark rage I bear,
- Stars, your cold complacent stare;
- Heart-broken in my hate look up,
- Moon, at your clear immortal cup,
- Changing to gold from dusky red --
- Age after age when I am dead
- To be filled up with light, and then
- Emptied, to be refilled again.
- What has man done that only he
- Is slave to death -- so brutally
- Beaten back into the earth
- Impatient for him since his birth?
- Oh let me shut my eyes, close out
- The sight of stars and earth and be
- Sheltered a minute by this tree.
- Hemlock, through your fragrant boughs
- There moves no anger and no doubt,
- No envy of immortal things.
- The night-wind murmurs of the sea
- With veiled music ceaselessly,
- That to my shaken spirit sings.
- From their frail nest the robins rouse,
- In your pungent darkness stirred,
- Twittering a low drowsy word --
- And me you shelter, even me.
- In your quietness you house
- The wind, the woman and the bird.
- You speak to me and I have heard:
- If I am peaceful, I shall see
- Beauty's face continually;
- Feeding on her wine and bread
- I shall be wholly comforted,
- For she can make one day for me
- Rich as my lost eternity.
Back to the first poem.