Flame and Shadow
Sara Teasdale

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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 IX: By the Sea

    The Unchanging

      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.

    June Night

      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.

Part X


    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.

The Sanctuary

    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.

At Sea

    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.

Part XI

Summer Storm

    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.

Water Lilies

    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.

The Treasure

    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.

The Storm

    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.

Part XII

The Tree

    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.

At Midnight

    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.

Song Making

    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.

Red Maples

    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.

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