Helen of Troy and Other Poems
Sara Teasdale

Poets' Corner Scripting
© 2000, 2020 S.L. Spanoudis and
All rights reserved worldwide.

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


Author of "Sonnets to Duse, and Other Poems"

To Marion Cummings Stanley


    Part II: Love Songs

    Primavera Mia

      AS kings who see their little life-day pass,
      Take off the heavy ermine and the crown,
      So had the trees that autumn-time laid down
      Their golden garments on the faded grass,
      When I, who watched the seasons in the glass
      Of mine own thoughts, saw all the autumn's brown
      Leap into life and don a sunny gown
      Of leafage such as happy April has.
      Great spring came singing upward from the south;
      For in my heart, far carried on the wind,
      Your words like winged seeds took root and grew,
      And all the world caught music from your mouth;
      I saw the light as one who had been blind,
      And knew my sun and song and spring were you.

    Soul's Birth

      WHEN you were born, beloved, was your soul
      New made by God to match your body's flower,
      And were they both at one same precious hour
      Sent forth from heaven as a perfect whole?
      Or had your soul since dim creation burned,
      A star in some still region of the sky,
      That leaping earthward, left its place on high
      And to your little new-born body yearned?
      No words can tell in what celestial hour
      God made your soul and gave it mortal birth,
      Nor in the disarray of all the stars
      Is any place so sweet that such a flower
      Might linger there until thro' heaven's bars,
      It heard God's voice that bade it down to earth.

    Love and Death

      SHALL we, too, rise forgetful from our sleep,
      And shall my soul that lies within your hand
      Remember nothing, as the blowing sand
      Forgets the palm where long blue shadows creep
      When winds along the darkened desert sweep?
      Or would it still remember, tho' it spanned
      A thousand heavens, while the planets fanned
      The vacant ether with their voices deep?
      Soul of my soul, no word shall be forgot,
      Nor yet alone, beloved, shall we see
      The desolation of extinguished suns,
      Nor fear the void wherethro' our planet runs,
      For still together shall we go and not
      Fare forth alone to front eternity.

    For the Anniversary of John Keats' Death

      (February 23, 1821)

      AT midnight when the moonlit cypress trees
      Have woven round his grave a magic shade,
      Still weeping the unfinished hymn he made,
      There moves fresh Maia like a morning breeze
      Blown over jonquil beds when warm rains cease.
      And stooping where her poet's head is laid,
      Selene weeps while all the tides are stayed
      And swaying seas are darkened into peace.
      But they who wake the meadows and the tides
      Have hearts too kind to bid him wake from sleep
      Who murmurs sometimes when his dreams are deep,
      Startling the Quiet Land where he abides,
      And charming still, sad-eyed Persephone
      With visions of the sunny earth and sea.


      (To Eleonora Duse)

      WE are anhungered after solitude,
      Deep stillness pure of any speech or sound,
      Soft quiet hovering over pools profound,
      The silences that on the desert brood,
      Above a windless hush of empty seas,
      The broad unfurling banners of the dawn,
      A faery forest where there sleeps a Faun;
      Our souls are fain of solitudes like these.
      O woman who divined our weariness,
      And set the crown of silence on your art,
      >From what undreamed-of depth within your heart
      Have you sent forth the hush that makes us free
      To hear an instant, high above earth's stress,
      The silent music of infinity?

    The Return

      I TURNED the key and opened wide the door
      To enter my deserted room again,
      Where thro' the long hot months the dust had lain.
      Was it not lonely when across the floor
      No step was heard, no sudden song that bore
      My whole heart upward with a joyous pain?
      Were not the pictures and the volumes fain
      To have me with them always as before?
      But Giorgione's Venus did not deign
      To lift her lids, nor did the subtle smile
      Of Mona Lisa deepen. Madeleine
      Still wept against the glory of her hair,
      Nor did the lovers part their lips the while,
      But kissed unheeding that I watched them there.


      I AM afraid, oh I am so afraid!
      The cold black fear is clutching me to-night
      As long ago when they would take the light
      And leave the little child who would have prayed,
      Frozen and sleepless at the thought of death.
      My heart that beats too fast will rest too soon;
      I shall not know if it be night or noon, --
      Yet shall I struggle in the dark for breath?
      Will no one fight the Terror for my sake,
      The heavy darkness that no dawn will break?
      How can they leave me in that dark alone,
      Who loved the joy of light and warmth so much,
      And thrilled so with the sense of sound and touch, --
      How can they shut me underneath a stone?


      THE wide, bright temple of the world I found,
      And entered from the dizzy infinite
      That I might kneel and worship thee in it;
      Leaving the singing stars their ceaseless round
      Of silver music sound on orbed sound,
      For measured spaces where the shrines are lit,
      And men with wisdom or with little wit
      Implore the gods that mercy may abound.
      Ah, Aphrodite, was it not from thee
      My summons came across the endless spaces?
      Mother of Love, turn not thy face from me
      Now that I seek for thee in human faces;
      Answer my prayer or set my spirit free
      Again to drift along the starry places.

    Galahad in the Castle of the Maidens

      (To the maiden with the hidden face in Abbey's painting)

      THE other maidens raised their eyes to him
      Who stumbled in before them when the fight
      Had left him victor, with a victor's right.
      I think his eyes with quick hot tears grew dim;
      He scarcely saw her swaying white and slim,
      And trembling slightly, dreaming of his might,
      Nor knew he touched her hand, as strangely light
      As a wan wraith's beside a river's rim.
      The other maidens raised their eyes to see
      And only she has hid her face away,
      And yet I ween she loved him more than they,
      And very fairly fashioned was her face.
      Yet for Love's shame and sweet humility,
      She dared not meet him with their queenlike grace.

    To an Aeolian Harp

      THE winds have grown articulate in thee,
      And voiced again the wail of ancient woe
      That smote upon the winds of long ago:
      The cries of Trojan women as they flee,
      The quivering moan of pale Andromache,
      Now lifted loud with pain and now brought low.
      It is the soul of sorrow that we know,
      As in a shell the soul of all the sea.
      So sometimes in the compass of a song,
      Unknown to him who sings, thro' lips that live,
      The voiceless dead of long-forgotten lands
      Proclaim to us their heaviness and wrong
      In sweeping sadness of the winds that give
      Thy strings no rest from weariless wild hands.

    To Erinna

      WAS Time not harsh to you, or was he kind,
      O pale Erinna of the perfect lyre,
      That he has left no word of singing fire
      Whereby you waked the dreaming Lesbian wind,
      And kindled night along the lyric shore?
      O girl whose lips Erato stooped to kiss,
      Do you go sorrowing because of this
      In fields where poets sing forevermore?
      Or are you glad and is it best to be
      A silent music men have never heard,
      A dream in all our souls that we may say:
      "Her voice had all the rapture of the sea,
      And all the clear cool quiver of a bird
      Deep in a forest at the break of day"?

    To Cleis

      "I have a fair daughter with a form like a golden flower,
      Cleis, the beloved."
                                    Sapphic fragment.

      WHEN the dusk was wet with dew,
      Cleis, did the muses nine
      Listen in a silent line
      While your mother sang to you?

      Did they weep or did they smile
      When she crooned to still your cries,
      She, a muse in human guise,
      Who forsook her lyre awhile?

      Did you feel her wild heart beat?
      Did the warmth of all the sun
      Thro' your little body run
      When she kissed your hands and feet?

      Did your fingers, babywise,
      Touch her face and touch her hair,
      Did you think your mother fair,
      Could you bear her burning eyes?

      Are the songs that soothed your fears
      Vanished like a vanished flame,
      Save the line where shines your name
      Starlike down the graying years?

      Cleis speaks no word to me,
      For the land where she has gone
      Lieth mute at dusk and dawn
      Like a windless tideless sea.

    Paris in Spring

      THE city's all a-shining
      Beneath a fickle sun,
      A gay young wind's a-blowing,
      The little shower is done.
      But the rain-drops still are clinging
      And falling one by one --
      Oh it's Paris, it's Paris,
      And spring-time has begun.

      I know the Bois is twinkling
      In a sort of hazy sheen,
      And down the Champs the gray old arch
      Stands cold and still between.
      But the walk is flecked with sunlight
      Where the great acacias lean,
      Oh it's Paris, it's Paris,
      And the leaves are growing green.

      The sun's gone in, the sparkle's dead,
      There falls a dash of rain,
      But who would care when such an air
      Comes blowing up the Seine?
      And still Ninette sits sewing
      Beside her window-pane,
      When it's Paris, it's Paris,
      And spring-time's come again.

    Madeira from the Sea

      OUT of the delicate dream of the distance an emerald emerges
      Veiled in the violet folds of the air of the sea;
      Softly the dream grows awakening -- shimmering white of a city,
      Splashes of crimson, the gay bougainvillea, the palms.
      High in the infinite blue of its heaven a quiet cloud lingers,
      Lost and forgotten of winds that have fallen asleep,
      Fallen asleep to the tune of a Portuguese song in a garden.

    City Vignettes



      THE greenish sky glows up in misty reds,
      The purple shadows turn to brick and stone,
      The dreams wear thin, men turn upon their beds,
      And hear the milk-cart jangle by alone.



      The city's street, a roaring blackened stream
      Walled in by granite, thro' whose thousand eyes
      A thousand yellow lights begin to gleam,
      And over all the pale untroubled skies.


      Rain at Night

      The street-lamps shine in a yellow line
      Down the splashy, gleaming street,
      And the rain is heard now loud now blurred
      By the tread of homing feet.

    By the Sea

      BESIDE an ebbing northern sea
      While stars awaken one by one,
      We walk together, I and he.

      He woos me with an easy grace
      That proves him only half sincere;
      A light smile flickers on his face.

      To him love-making is an art,
      And as a flutist plays a flute,
      So does he play upon his heart

      A music varied to his whim.
      He has no use for love of mine,
      He would not have me answer him.

      To hide my eyes within the night
      I watch the changeful lighthouse gleam
      Alternately with red and white.

      My laughter smites upon my ears,
      So one who cries and wakes from sleep
      Knows not it is himself he hears.

      What if my voice should let him know
      The mocking words were all a sham,
      And lips that laugh could tremble so?

      What if I lost the power to lie,
      And he should only hear his name
      In one low, broken cry?

    On the Death of Swinburne

      HE trod the earth but yesterday,
      And now he treads the stars.
      He left us in the April time
      He praised so often in his rhyme,
      He left the singing and the lyre and went his way.

      He drew new music from our tongue,
      A music subtly wrought,
      And moulded words to his desire,
      As wind doth mould a wave of fire;
      From strangely fashioned harps slow golden tones he wrung.

      I think the singing understands
      That he who sang is still,
      And Iseult cries that he is dead, --
      Does not Dolores bow her head
      And Fragoletta weep and wring her little hands?

      New singing now the singer hears
      To lyre and lute and harp;
      Catullus waits to welcome him,
      And thro' the twilight sweet and dim,
      Sappho's forgotten songs are falling on his ears.



      LOVE looked back as he took his flight,
      And lo, his eyes were filled with tears.
      Was it for love of lost delight
      Love looked back as he took his flight?
      Only I know while day grew night,
      Turning still to the vanished years,
      Love looked back as he took his flight,
      And lo, his eyes were filled with tears.


      (Written in a copy of "La Vita Nuova". For M. C. S.)

      If you were Lady Beatrice
      And I the Florentine,
      I'd never waste my time like this --
      If you were Lady Beatrice
      I'd woo and then demand a kiss,
      Nor weep like Dante here, I ween,
      If you were Lady Beatrice
      And I the Florentine.


      (Written in a copy of "The Poems of Sappho".)

      Beyond the dim Hesperides,
      The girl who sang them long ago
      Could never dream that over seas,
      Beyond the dim Hesperides,
      The wind would blow such songs as these --
      I wonder now if she can know,
      Beyond the dim Hesperides,
      The girl who sang them long ago?


      Dead leaves upon the stream
      And dead leaves on the air --
      All of my lost hopes seem
      Dead leaves upon the stream;
      I watch them in a dream,
      Going I know not where,
      Dead leaves upon the stream
      And dead leaves on the air.

    Vox Corporis

      THE beast to the beast is calling,
      And the soul bends down to wait;
      Like the stealthy lord of the jungle,
      The white man calls his mate.

      The beast to the beast is calling,
      They rush through the twilight sweet,
      But the soul is a wary hunter,
      He will not let them meet.

    A Ballad of Two Knights

      TWO knights rode forth at early dawn
      A-seeking maids to wed,
      Said one, "My lady must be fair,
      With gold hair on her head."

      Then spake the other knight-at-arms:
      "I care not for her face,
      But she I love must be a dove
      For purity and grace."

      And each knight blew upon his horn
      And went his separate way,
      And each knight found a lady-love
      Before the fall of day.

      But she was brown who should have had
      The shining yellow hair --
      I ween the knights forgot their words
      Or else they ceased to care.

      For he who wanted purity
      Brought home a wanton wild,
      And when each saw the other knight
      I ween that each knight smiled.

    Christmas Carol

      THE kings they came from out the south,
      All dressed in ermine fine,
      They bore Him gold and chrysoprase,
      And gifts of precious wine.

      The shepherds came from out the north,
      Their coats were brown and old,
      They brought Him little new-born lambs --
      They had not any gold.

      The wise-men came from out the east,
      And they were wrapped in white;
      The star that led them all the way
      Did glorify the night.

      The angels came from heaven high,
      And they were clad with wings;
      And lo, they brought a joyful song
      The host of heaven sings.

      The kings they knocked upon the door,
      The wise-men entered in,
      The shepherds followed after them
      To hear the song begin.

      And Mary held the little child
      And sat upon the ground;
      She looked up, she looked down,
      She looked all around.

      The angels sang thro' all the night
      Until the rising sun,
      But little Jesus fell asleep
      Before the song was done.

    The Faery Forest

      THE faery forest glimmered
      Beneath an ivory moon,
      The silver grasses shimmered
      Against a faery tune.

      Beneath the silken silence
      The crystal branches slept,
      And dreaming thro' the dew-fall
      The cold white blossoms wept.

    A Fantasy

      HER voice is like clear water
      That drips upon a stone
      In forests far and silent
      Where Quiet plays alone.

      Her thoughts are like the lotus
      Abloom by sacred streams
      Beneath the temple arches
      Where Quiet sits and dreams.

      Her kisses are the roses
      That glow while dusk is deep
      In Persian garden closes
      Where Quiet falls asleep.

    A Minuet of Mozart's

      ACROSS the dimly lighted room
      The violin drew wefts of sound,
      Airily they wove and wound
      And glimmered gold against the gloom.

      I watched the music turn to light,
      But at the pausing of the bow,
      The web was broken and the glow
      Was drowned within the wave of night.


      DREAMILY over the roofs
      The cold spring rain is falling,
      Out in the lonely tree
      A bird is calling, calling.

      Slowly over the earth
      The wings of night are falling;
      My heart like the bird in the tree
      Is calling, calling, calling.

    The Prayer

      MY answered prayer came up to me,
      And in the silence thus spake he:
      "O you who prayed for me to come,
      Your greeting is but cold and dumb."

      My heart made answer: "You are fair,
      But I have prayed too long to care.
      Why came you not when all was new,
      And I had died for joy of you."

    Two Songs for a Child


      Grandfather's Love

      THEYhey said he sent his love to me,
      They wouldn't put it in my hand,
      And when I asked them where it was
      They said I couldn't understand.

      I thought they must have hidden it,
      I hunted for it all the day,
      And when I told them so at night
      They smiled and turned their heads away.

      They say that love is something kind,
      That I can never see or touch.
      I wish he'd sent me something else,
      I like his cough-drops twice as much.


      The Kind Moon

      I think the moon is very kind
      To take such trouble just for me.
      He came along with me from home
      To keep me company.

      He went as fast as I could run;
      I wonder how he crossed the sky?
      I'm sure he hasn't legs and feet
      Or any wings to fly.

      Yet here he is above their roof;
      Perhaps he thinks it isn't right
      For me to go so far alone,
      Tho' mother said I might.

    On to the next poem.

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