Featured Poem: Epitaph by Sara Teasdale

Last weekend was a confusing one. Nothing to do with hazy memories of a particularly forgettable night or excess of any kind, you understand. Rather it was to do with the altogether more mundane matter of time. Twice a year it happens – often enough so that it should be familiar, yet you never quite get to grips with those misplaced moments when the clocks suddenly change. As time goes back, the long dark nights creep ever so quickly upon us. Sunlight becomes more elusive and the temptation to curl up in a cosy cocoon becomes stronger. It’s not the onset of another winter that concerns me so much as the general speediness of time as a whole. I’m not sure whether it was the almost complete absence of a summer that did it, or whether it’s just a fact of postgraduate life that the months are zipping by faster than I have the time to process.

Short and rather bittersweet – much like the hours of daylight we can expect for a while – is ‘Epitaph’ by Sara Teasdale. It succinctly sums up the cyclical nature of time, the passing of the seasons and how neither can be halted. The opening line presents a beautiful image of the change from autumn to winter, as the altered leaves fall from trees in ‘serene descent’. However in the very next line, an unsettling and even eerie atmosphere is introduced which pervades throughout – in the silence of the autumn air, the suffocation of the snow and perhaps most evidently in the ominous ‘unending drawing of all things to the earth again’. The mixture of darkness evoked by the title and the quiet beauty of the described elements is striking.

Love is a subject frequently touched upon by the American poet in her work and it is the romantic suggestion of the poem’s closing that I find especially illuminating. The idea that the earth is in a relationship with time and the seasons is one both intriguing and plausible, as one does affect the other. For one partner to be solid and dependable and the other flighty and restless seems to be the stuff of romantic folklore, something exciting but ultimately doomed to failure. Yet the earth does not regret what has been and the preceding season is not conscious to know that it has been discarded. Maybe it is best to think of the passing months and years in their turn in this way, as love affairs – destined at some point to come to an end but filled with memories that overcome time itself to endure in our lives.

Epitaph

Serene descent, as a red leaf’s descending

When there is neither wind nor noise of rain,

But only autumn air and the unending

Drawing of all things to the earth again.

So be it, let the snow fall deep and cover

All that was drunken once with light and air.

The earth will not regret her tireless lover,

Nor he awake to know she does not care.

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

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