Biography of Sara Teasdale, 1884-1933

Biographical Sketch by Leslie Laurio

Sara Teasdale was born into a well-to-do family in St. Louis, Missouri. Even as a child, she loved pretty things. In fact, her first word was "pretty." Her three much older siblings doted on their little sister, whom they affectionately called "Sadie," and treated like a princess. She was homeschooled until age ten due to frail health, and lived an extremely sheltered life. She grew up believing she was delicate and helpless, and that perception never left her. It caused her anxiety and made her feel very dependent on others. Yet she was often left alone and had to amuse herself because her siblings were so much older, and she had no peers. Because her family considered her delicate, she was not allowed to run around and play like most children. She was a shy and lonely child.

She went to a private girls' school where she made friends and began to write, both poetry and prose. As a young woman, she joined a group of other young women artists in St. Louis who called themselves The Potters and published a magazine called The Potter's Wheel.

She was a fan of an Italian actress named Eleonora Duse, and, although they never met, Sara wrote poems in her honor. Those poems became her first book--Sonnets to Duse--and brought her recognition in the literary world.

When she was 21, Sara went on a tour of Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land with her mother. She was captivated by the architecture. Shortly after they returned, Sara's health deteriorated and she spent five lonely months at a sanitarium in Connecticut to recover.

Many young men were interested in Sara. The poet Vachel Lindsay proposed to her, but she turned him down and married a businessman named Ernst Filsinger, and moved with him to New York. Ernst loved Sara deeply and was very devoted to her, but he traveled a lot, and she was left alone much of the time--just as she had been as a child. Sara was an emotional person, frequently depressed, often unwell, and very dependent. She decided marriage was not for her and after fifteen years, she divorced Ernst. Ernst was brokenhearted. They had no children. Sara devoted the rest of her life to her work. She wrote poems, and edited books of poems by other poets, including the children's collection Rainbow Gold, dedicated to her father, as well as a book of poems by female poets.

Her poetry is lyrical, almost musical, and as finely crafted as a polished jewel. Her book Rivers to the Sea (1918), was praised by the New York Times Book Review as "a little volume of joyous and unstudied song." Reviewers compared her to Christina Rossetti, William Blake, and A. E. Housman. Her poems were admired by other poets for their delicate simplicity. Her book Love Songs was chosen by Columbia University as 1917's best book of poetry, before Pulitzer Prizes were given for poetry.

But in spite of her success, anxiety, depression, and frail health continued to plague her. One of her brothers had been paralyzed by a stroke and spent twenty years in a wheelchair. Sara feared suffering the same fate. She had taken a trip to Europe to research a biography she wanted to write about Christina Rossetti, and came back to New York with a nasty bout of pneumonia. Before she was fully recovered, a blood vessel burst in her hand. She was convinced that she was having a stroke. Despondent at the thought of becoming paralyzed, she took her own life at the age of forty-eight.

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