Flame and Shadow
Sara Teasdale

Poets' Corner Scripting
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Transcribed for Poets' Corner
July 2000 by S.L.Spanoudis

[This 1920 work is believed to be in the public domain in the US. Please check local restrictions in other geographies.]

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Sara Teasdale
Flame and Shadow

by Sara Teasdale

To E.

"Recois la flamme ou l'ombre
De tous mes jours."


    Part I

    Blue Squills

      How many million Aprils came
      Before I ever knew
      How white a cherry bough could be,
      A bed of squills, how blue!

      And many a dancing April
      When life is done with me,
      Will lift the blue flame of the flower
      And the white flame of the tree.

      Oh burn me with your beauty, then,
      Oh hurt me, tree and flower,
      Lest in the end death try to take
      Even this glistening hour.

      O shaken flowers, O shimmering trees,
      O sunlit white and blue,
      Wound me, that I, through endless sleep,
      May bear the scar of you.


      Alone in the night
      On a dark hill
      With pines around me
      Spicy and still,

      And a heaven full of stars
      Over my head,
      White and topaz
      And misty red;

      Myriads with beating
      Hearts of fire
      That aeons
      Cannot vex or tire;

      Up the dome of heaven
      Like a great hill,
      I watch them marching
      Stately and still,

      And I know that I
      Am honored to be
      Of so much majesty.

    What Do I Care?

      What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,
      That my songs do not show me at all?
      For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,
      I am an answer, they are only a call.

      But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,
      Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,
      For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent,
      It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.


      In the silver light after a storm,
      Under dripping boughs of bright new green,
      I take the low path to hear the meadowlarks
      Alone and high-hearted as if I were a queen.

      What have I to fear in life or death
      Who have known three things: the kiss in the night,
      The white flying joy when a song is born,
      And meadowlarks whistling in silver light.


      My forefathers gave me
      My spirit's shaken flame,
      The shape of hands, the beat of heart,
      The letters of my name.

      But it was my lovers,
      And not my sleeping sires,
      Who gave the flame its changeful
      And iridescent fires;

      As the driftwood burning
      Learned its jewelled blaze
      From the sea's blue splendor
      Of colored nights and days.

    I Have Loved Hours at Sea"

      I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,
      The fragile secret of a flower,
      Music, the making of a poem
      That gave me heaven for an hour;

      First stars above a snowy hill,
      Voices of people kindly and wise,
      And the great look of love, long hidden,
      Found at last in meeting eyes.

      I have loved much and been loved deeply --
      Oh when my spirit's fire burns low,
      Leave me the darkness and the stillness,
      I shall be tired and glad to go.

    August Moonrise

      The sun was gone, and the moon was coming
      Over the blue Connecticut hills;
      The west was rosy, the east was flushed,
      And over my head the swallows rushed
      This way and that, with changeful wills.
      I heard them twitter and watched them dart
      Now together and now apart
      Like dark petals blown from a tree;
      The maples stamped against the west
      Were black and stately and full of rest,
      And the hazy orange moon grew up
      And slowly changed to yellow gold
      While the hills were darkened, fold on fold
      To a deeper blue than a flower could hold.
      Down the hill I went, and then
      I forgot the ways of men,
      For night-scents, heady, and damp and cool
      Wakened ecstasy in me
      On the brink of a shining pool.

      O Beauty, out of many a cup
      You have made me drunk and wild
      Ever since I was a child,
      But when have I been sure as now
      That no bitterness can bend
      And no sorrow wholly bow
      One who loves you to the end?
      And though I must give my breath
      And my laughter all to death,
      And my eyes through which joy came,
      And my heart, a wavering flame;
      If all must leave me and go back
      Along a blind and fearful track
      So that you can make anew,
      Fusing with intenser fire,
      Something nearer your desire;
      If my soul must go alone
      Through a cold infinity,
      Or even if it vanish, too,
      Beauty, I have worshipped you.

      Let this single hour atone
      For the theft of all of me.

    Part II: Memories


      Places I love come back to me like music,
      Hush me and heal me when I am very tired;
      I see the oak woods at Saxton's flaming
      In a flare of crimson by the frost newly fired;
      And I am thirsty for the spring in the valley
      As for a kiss ungiven and long desired.

      I know a bright world of snowy hills at Boonton,
      A blue and white dazzling light on everything one sees,
      The ice-covered branches of the hemlocks sparkle
      Bending low and tinkling in the sharp thin breeze,
      And iridescent crystals fall and crackle on the snow-crust
      With the winter sun drawing cold blue shadows from the trees.

      Violet now, in veil on veil of evening
      The hills across from Cromwell grow dreamy and far;
      A wood-thrush is singing soft as a viol
      In the heart of the hollow where the dark pools are;
      The primrose has opened her pale yellow flowers
      And heaven is lighting star after star.

      Places I love come back to me like music --
      Mid-ocean, midnight, the waves buzz drowsily;
      In the ship's deep churning the eerie phosphorescence
      Is like the souls of people who were drowned at sea,
      And I can hear a man's voice, speaking, hushed, insistent,
      At midnight, in mid-ocean, hour on hour to me.

    Old Tunes

      As the waves of perfume, heliotrope, rose,
      Float in the garden when no wind blows,
      Come to us, go from us, whence no one knows;

      So the old tunes float in my mind,
      And go from me leaving no trace behind,
      Like fragrance borne on the hush of the wind.

      But in the instant the airs remain
      I know the laughter and the pain
      Of times that will not come again.

      I try to catch at many a tune
      Like petals of light fallen from the moon,
      Broken and bright on a dark lagoon,

      But they float away -- for who can hold
      Youth, or perfume or the moon's gold?

    Only In Sleep

      Only in sleep I see their faces,
      Children I played with when I was a child,
      Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,
      Annie with ringlets warm and wild.

      Only in sleep Time is forgotten --
      What may have come to them, who can know?
      Yet we played last night as long ago,
      And the doll-house stood at the turn of the stair.

      The years had not sharpened their smooth round faces,
      I met their eyes and found them mild --
      Do they, too, dream of me, I wonder,
      And for them am I too a child?


      Redbirds, redbirds,
      Long and long ago,
      What a honey-call you had
      In hills I used to know;

      Redbud, buckberry,
      Wild plum-tree
      And proud river sweeping
      Southward to the sea,

      Brown and gold in the sun
      Sparkling far below,
      Trailing stately round her bluffs
      Where the poplars grow --

      Redbirds, redbirds,
      Are you singing still
      As you sang one May day
      On Saxton's Hill?

    Sunset: Saint Louis

      Hushed in the smoky haze of summer sunset,
      When I came home again from far-off places,
      How many times I saw my western city
      Dream by her river.

      Then for an hour the water wore a mantle
      Of tawny gold and mauve and misted turquoise
      Under the tall and darkened arches bearing
      Gray, high-flung bridges.

      Against the sunset, water-towers and steeples
      Flickered with fire up the slope to westward,
      And old warehouses poured their purple shadows
      Across the levee.

      High over them the black train swept with thunder,
      Cleaving the city, leaving far beneath it
      Wharf-boats moored beside the old side-wheelers
      Resting in twilight.

    The Coin

      Into my heart's treasury
      I slipped a coin
      That time cannot take
      Nor a thief purloin, --
      Oh better than the minting
      Of a gold-crowned king
      Is the safe-kept memory
      Of a lovely thing.

    The Voice

      Atoms as old as stars,
      Mutation on mutation,
      Millions and millions of cells
      Dividing yet still the same,
      From air and changing earth,
      From ancient Eastern rivers,
      From turquoise tropic seas,
      Unto myself I came.

      My spirit like my flesh
      Sprang from a thousand sources,
      From cave-man, hunter and shepherd,
      From Karnak, Cyprus, Rome;
      The living thoughts in me
      Spring from dead men and women,
      Forgotten time out of mind
      And many as bubbles of foam.

      Here for a moment's space
      Into the light out of darkness,
      I come and they come with me
      Finding words with my breath;
      From the wisdom of many life-times
      I hear them cry: "Forever
      Seek for Beauty, she only
      Fights with man against Death!"

    Part III

    Day and Night

      In Warsaw in Poland
      Half the world away,
      The one I love best of all
      Thought of me to-day;

      I know, for I went
      Winged as a bird,
      In the wide flowing wind
      His own voice I heard;

      His arms were round me
      In a ferny place,
      I looked in the pool
      And there was his face --

      But now it is night
      And the cold stars say:
      "Warsaw in Poland
      Is half the world away."


      I should be glad of loneliness
      And hours that go on broken wings,
      A thirsty body, a tired heart
      And the unchanging ache of things,
      If I could make a single song
      As lovely and as full of light,
      As hushed and brief as a falling star
      On a winter night.

    I Remembered

      There never was a mood of mine,
      Gay or heart-broken, luminous or dull,
      But you could ease me of its fever
      And give it back to me more beautiful.

      In many another soul I broke the bread,
      And drank the wine and played the happy guest,
      But I was lonely, I remembered you;
      The heart belongs to him who knew it best.

    Oh You are Coming

      Oh you are coming, coming, coming,
      How will hungry Time put by the hours till then? --
      But why does it anger my heart to long so
      For one man out of the world of men?

      Oh I would live in myself only
      And build my life lightly and still as a dream --
      Are not my thoughts clearer than your thoughts
      And colored like stones in a running stream?

      Now the slow moon brightens in heaven,
      The stars are ready, the night is here --
      Oh why must I lose myself to love you,
      My dear?

    The Return

      He has come, he is here,
      My love has come home,
      The minutes are lighter
      Than flying foam,
      The hours are like dancers
      On gold-slippered feet,
      The days are young runners
      Naked and fleet --
      For my love has returned,
      He is home, he is here,
      In the whole world no other
      Is dear as my dear!

    Gray Eyes

      It was April when you came
      The first time to me,
      And my first look in your eyes
      Was like my first look at the sea.

      We have been together
      Four Aprils now
      Watching for the green
      On the swaying willow bough;

      Yet whenever I turn
      To your gray eyes over me,
      It is as though I looked
      For the first time at the sea.

    The Net

      I made you many and many a song,
      Yet never one told all you are --
      It was as though a net of words
      Were flung to catch a star;

      It was as though I curved my hand
      And dipped sea-water eagerly,
      Only to find it lost the blue
      Dark splendor of the sea.

    The Mystery

      Your eyes drink of me,
      Love makes them shine,
      Your eyes that lean
      So close to mine.

      We have long been lovers,
      We know the range
      Of each other's moods
      And how they change;

      But when we look
      At each other so
      Then we feel
      How little we know;

      The spirit eludes us,
      Timid and free --
      Can I ever know you
      Or you know me?

    Part IV: In a Hospital

    Open Windows

      Out of the window a sea of green trees
      Lift their soft boughs like the arms of a dancer,
      They beckon and call me, "Come out in the sun!"
      But I cannot answer.

      I am alone with Weakness and Pain,
      Sick abed and June is going,
      I cannot keep her, she hurries by
      With the silver-green of her garments blowing.

      Men and women pass in the street
      Glad of the shining sapphire weather,
      But we know more of it than they,
      Pain and I together.

      They are the runners in the sun,
      Breathless and blinded by the race,
      But we are watchers in the shade
      Who speak with Wonder face to face.

    The New Moon

      Day, you have bruised and beaten me,
      As rain beats down the bright, proud sea,
      Beaten my body, bruised my soul,
      Left me nothing lovely or whole --
      Yet I have wrested a gift from you,
      Day that dies in dusky blue:
      For suddenly over the factories
      I saw a moon in the cloudy seas --
      A wisp of beauty all alone
      In a world as hard and gray as stone --
      Oh who could be bitter and want to die
      When a maiden moon wakes up in the sky?

    Eight O'Clock

      Supper comes at five o'clock,
      At six, the evening star,
      My lover comes at eight o'clock --
      But eight o'clock is far.

      How could I bear my pain all day
      Unless I watched to see
      The clock-hands laboring to bring
      Eight o'clock to me.

    Lost Things

      Oh, I could let the world go by,
      Its loud new wonders and its wars,
      But how will I give up the sky
      When winter dusk is set with stars?

      And I could let the cities go,
      Their changing customs and their creeds, --
      But oh, the summer rains that blow
      In silver on the jewel-weeds!


      Waves are the sea's white daughters,
      And raindrops the children of rain,
      But why for my shimmering body
      Have I a mother like Pain?

      Night is the mother of stars,
      And wind the mother of foam --
      The world is brimming with beauty,
      But I must stay at home.

    The Broken Field

      My soul is a dark ploughed field
      In the cold rain;
      My soul is a broken field
      Ploughed by pain.

      Where grass and bending flowers
      Were growing,
      The field lies broken now
      For another sowing.

      Great Sower when you tread
      My field again,
      Scatter the furrows there
      With better grain.

    The Unseen

      Death went up the hall
      Unseen by every one,
      Trailing twilight robes
      Past the nurse and the nun.

      He paused at every door
      And listened to the breath
      Of those who did not know
      How near they were to Death.

      Death went up the hall
      Unseen by nurse and nun;
      He passed by many a door --
      But he entered one.

    A Prayer

      When I am dying, let me know
      That I loved the blowing snow
      Although it stung like whips;
      That I loved all lovely things
      And I tried to take their stings
      With gay unembittered lips;
      That I loved with all my strength,
      To my soul's full depth and length,
      Careless if my heart must break,
      That I sang as children sing
      Fitting tunes to everything,
      Loving life for its own sake.

    On to the next poem.

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