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Water Lilies -- Sara Teasdale

(Poem #1078) 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.
-- Sara Teasdale
Today's poem addresses one of my favourite themes - that of the longing, not
for a place, but for a particular *kind* of place. Sea poems are perhaps the
most popular examples of the genre, but practically every form of terrain
from the teeming metropolis to the forest primeval has its 'poetic' aspects,
and most have been immortalised in at least one good poem.

'Water Lilies' is definitely one of the good poems. Teasdale's quiet,
understated style fits her subject beautifully - the "dark lake among
mountains in the afternoon shade" is a perfectly self-contained image that
draws the reader into an almost enchanted scene, and makes the last line not
just plausible but believable.


There's a biography of Teasdale at Poem #113

A random sampling of poems along the same lines:
  Poem #3, Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Inversnaid"
  Poem #29, Rudyard Kipling, "The Sea and the Hills"
  Poem #317, Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Inland"
  Poem #510, Lord Byron, "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods"

And on a somewhat related note:
  Poem #238, W. J. Turner, "Romance"


64 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

vandana.barkur said...

This reminded me of "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth... maybe u can feature
it some day...Thanks...

* 8291020 * 2072

P.G.MURTHY said...

SS Iyer:
Just a note to say how much I appreciate your observations so true on the poems and poetry of Sarah Teasdale. I recall a short story of Ray Bradury titled "There Will Come Soft Rain" regarding an unoccupied house; the scene is in 2026 in a home where everything possible is automated but the people have vanished. From breakfast on through to night all work is completed to clock-work precision, till the last event when a favorite poem is read out. The robot, I believe that's what runs the show, asks from the study ceiling, "Mrs.McCllenan, which poem would you like this evening?". The house was silent.The voice said at last, "Since you express no preference, I shall select a poem at random.' Quiet music rose to back the voice. "Sarah Teasdale. As I recall your favorite....and there followed the lovely poem:
"There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground ....."
I am sure that you must have read the poem. Teasdale is one of my favourite poets. Once again my sincere appreciation of your selection and the write-up.

sandi_ordinario said...

Comments on Waterlilies by Sara Teasdale

It may have something to do with her missing the poet Vachel Lindsay who in a biography of hers (can't remember by whom)she had a love affair. Lindsay left her for some reason but perhaps the memories of their love may have lingered on. She calls to him in an enticing imagery about the "wet sleepy fragrance" of waterlilies...definitely a sexual imagery. The next line is somewhat non sequitor. "But if you remember, then turn again forever to the plains and the prairies where pools are far apart." Teasdale uses the imagery of waterlilies to call back her lover and yet she says if he remembers that image, he should go far from this kind of locale ( to plains and water...pools far apart). Water may stand for spiritual things. The memory of perhaps love, joy, peace and whatever special experiences they've had coming to an end will not bear so much on his heart. Beautiful poetry!


A. P said...

A very enjoyable treat, indeed.
I guess the contradiction between her "invitation" and her advise to stay
away is only natural. She'd want him to come, but tells him that it's best
for him not to. Since it's impossible to move back in time, and resurrect
that evening in the mountains, it's best not to come even close to trying to
do so, since such attempts are likely to bring nothing but pain.

oh, wait. august 2002? I guess nobody'll read this. oh, anyway
: )

Anonymous said...

Vachel Lindsay was from the plains and prairies.
She loved him, but her family persuaded her to marry a man of business who had more money. In fact she wrote to a friend of hers "oh,if I only had 3,000. 00 a year and good health, I would love to be Mrs. Vachel Lindsay!" She married for money not for love and she regreted it the rest of her life.

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