A poet with suicidal tendencies and a literary subtlety that outweighed many of her contemporaries, Sara Teasdale was born in 1884 in Missouri. From an early age she suffered from poor health and it wasn’t until she was 14 that she began to attend school.
She received great exposure for her lyrical poems that seemed to reflect the changing perspectives of women on a variety of issues, most notably love, beauty, and death. Her poems are largely a reflection of her own life and have found resonance with her transformation from a woman who was curious about the world to one who was increasingly disillusioned and depressed.
Her first poem was published in Reedy’s Magazine in 1907 and her first collection, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems was published in the same year. She was often touted as unsophisticated but her musicality and lyrical quality seemed to carry her poems through. While she was never considered one of the major poets, she expounded a haunting philosophy of life and death that has endured to the present day.
The turning point in her poetry came with the publication of Helen of Troy and Other Poems in 1911 which was greeted well by critics for its romantic nature and strong lyricism. She married Ernst Filsinger after a number of suitors, a man who had been a fan of her poetry for a number of years. She published her third collection of poetry, Rivers to the Sea, in 1915 and it became a bestseller which was reprinted several times.
For a while, things seem to go from good to better for Sara Teasdale. In 1918, Love Songs, a poetry collection, won the Pulitzer Prize but her husband was constantly away on business and it caused a period of loneliness for Teasdale. In 1929 it became too much for her and she moved interstate for the three months that would enable her to get a divorce.
For a while, staying in New York, she rekindled her relationship with a former beau Vachel Lindsey but he committed suicide in 1931. Two years later, Sara Teasdale ended her own life with a cocktail of sleeping pills. She was just 49 years old.
A popular myth surrounds her death, that she wrote the poem I Shall Not Care as her suicide note. The truth is that the poem had been part of her Rivers to the Sea collection published some years earlier.
At heart, Sara Teasdale was a romantic and her poetry is characterised by its simplicity and passion. Her final collection of poetry, Strange Victory, appeared shortly after her death.