Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sara Teasdale

I've received a request for a poem by Sara Teasdale, a new poet to me, so here she goes:

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

The speaker is warning us not to return to an experience of beauty, but to instead move on to a wholly different place. Why? If we know of something beautiful and peaceful, why should we not go back to that experience?

Perhaps it is because we can never recreate our original connection with an experience; it exists only briefly and only in that original time. Beauty is transient; we cannot sustain a connection with it, but we can find it again somewhere else if we move on. If we think we can be fulfilled by staying in the same place, trying to renew the same connection with the same experiences, then we are fooling ourselves. We must move on and grow or become stagnant.

We can, of course, revisit places of beauty, and perhaps appreciate them in a different way. But since the original experience alters us, even if slightly, we will never feel it exactly the same way we did the first time. This is a truth of the human condition. It forces us to change, to move on, and to grow.


Roberta said...

That was a very nice poem. I don't know that I've ever read anything by Sarah Teasdale before but I'm sure to look her up now. Thank you.

Danny said...

That was a very lovely poem and commentary.

The poem hit me to the core. There are beautiful experiences in the past that I cannot go back. However, there also bad memories that I cannot resist revisiting, so ironic…

Thank you dear Amy for dropping by at my blog and for a sweet and thoughtful comment.

Today, I am so down and my integrity as a painter was crushed like my broken guitar when I was a boy. The gallery owners told me that they could not exhibit one my paintings “Menstrual Period of Political History” because of its sensitive political theme.

The painting is my “obra maestra” after creating those beautiful surreal paintings in the past that were commercially successful in our local art market. Like in the poem, I could not go back recreating the works that I have already done.

As what you have said, “This is a truth of the human condition. It forces us to change, to move on, and to grow.” In my current art, I wanted to explore and to grow and to make a statement amid the illing political and economic conditions of my country. But before it could be shown on my one-man show, I was already consumed by the conquences that my work had brought me.

Secondly, three weeks ago, my computer crushed and I lost all my literary and philosophical writings including my two-year work on photography.

At this very moment, I wanted to cease existing. I wanted to stop writing and painting they way I stopped singing and playing guitar a long time ago.

I am so sorry Amy if I vented my pains and bitterness on your blog, but your comment has brought me here only to read “Water Lilies” of Sarah Teasdale.

I am so crushed and broken… I wanted to cry but no tears would come out from eyes…

Amy said...

Danny, I'm so sorry to hear that you're having such a rough time. Your art must have hit some powerful chord of truth to make people afraid of showing it.

I admire your determination to explore your range as an artist and create what you want to create, regardless of others' reactions. Courage!

Tinker said...

nice poem. i like your blog. I have always liked poetry but tend to read more novels and books instead.

Gilbert Koh said...

I interpreted the poem a little differently - it is not so much about not being able to reexperience the same piece of beauty, but about the sadness of watching such beauty fade.

I think that the reader has to pay a little more attention to this part:

"There you will not come at dusk on closing water lilies,"

In the afternoons, the water lilies are in bloom and they are beautiful, but at dusk, they close -

an act reminiscent of death? mortality ....?

... and which brings sadness to anyone witnessing it -

".. the shadow of mountains ... fall on your heart."

The poet suggests that if you are the sort that remembers such sad moments acutely, then you should avoid the water lilies.

Of course, you can read the poem not as about water lilies per se, but as symbolic -

they bloom, but they also close/die, and are a reminder that the many beautiful things in our lives must eventually fade away. For example, the water lilies could represent:

lost youth;

the love in a romantic relationship;

a once-major success in life that grows less and less significant over the years;

or simply life itself, and death.

Amy said...


Thank you for these insights. All beautiful things do eventually fade away or die, including us.

Perhaps the speaker is suggesting that if we cling to the memory of the beautiful thing or experience, or our own youth, then we will be saddened and even devastated by its passing. But if we don't cling to it ("remember" it), then we can witness and accept its passing as a normal and necessary process of life.

The Defeatist said...

No "h" in Sara, by the way.

Try finding "Nightfall" by her. It's my favorite. Such a wonderfully melancholy writer, she.

Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) said...

Oh, how I love this familiar poem! (I even like the sound of her name.) Monet's Water Lilies were my first inspirations for paintings outside of family artistic expression adorning our walls.

My initial emotional response to this poem is very close to Gilbert's. Longing, sadness, and perhaps regret at missing experiences is painfully evident in this touching poem. However, the theme of the transience of beauty is there as well.

As you continued the discussion Amy, yes beauty does fade, just as memories and experiences fade or never occur. My comments can become long-winded so I'm stopping.Thanks for sharing this one and opening up with astute commentary.

sweet spontaneous said...

oh how lovely! to see the discussion of poetry across time and space-- with some grace and acuity i might add.
I think that a thread dangling from the poem, picked up by danny's and gilbert's conversation is the weight of aesthetics, and of memory. To experience beauty so palpably can be lustful, at times- and, as the poets conclusion suggests- to lose it monolithically dark.
Also interesting to note, however, on a technical note- the way in which your reading, Amy, highlights the transient/cyclical nature of everything-- for to stand in the shadow of mountains (albeit figurative ones) bodes a dark night- but an eventual daybreak must come.

and thanks for the blog love :)

Amy said...

Hi sweet--

l love this idea you suggest of "lusting" for beauty. What a fabulous definition of passion.