Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Sara Teasdale's 'Winter Stars': "Above Another City's Lights..."

This image is the Evening Star, from the Moon and Stars series by the Czech Art Nouveau painter and designer, Alphonse Mucha. I really love Mucha's work, as the whole Art Nouveau aesthetic appeals to me and I'm generally keen on the more refined versions of poster art.

WINTER STARS (Sara Teasdale)

I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit's wings -
I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father's house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city's lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world's heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) was an American poet who was critically acclaimed in her time and won the first Columbia Poetry Prize in 1918, a prize which later became the Pulitzer. Born in Missouri, she moved to New York City after publishing a few collections, and also married, but unhappily. She committed suicide a few years after her marriage ended in divorce.

I found this poem in a selection of winter-themed poems on the Poetry Foundation website, and related to it, as Orion has some significance for me. It is the one constellation that I can unfailingly recognise, and it reminds me particularly of getting out of the car at my parents' house when I was growing up, and seeing it stretched across the night sky directly above me ("Above another city's lights"). The stars were quite visible in Victoria, BC, though not to the extent that I've seen in the countryside or in the desert.

I have used Orion as a kind of signpost when I have travelled to various places; even if it's at an odd angle, it gives me something to anchor myself to. Unfortunately I can't do that in London. Due to the light pollution (and other forms of pollution, I suppose) there are only a few stars visible on even the clearest of nights. As much as I love the BBC Sherlock series, there was a moment in 'The Great Game' which made me wince; as Sherlock and John walk by the Vauxhall train arches, they look up and see the sky absolutely strewn with the brightest stars. This is simply impossible - it was the kind of sky I would expect to see only well away from a large city. I miss the stars, and when I see them brightly visible in some other place, I realise how much I have missed them.

I don't know exactly when this poem was written, but the reference to "young blood flowing beyond the sea" would indicate that it is a World War I poem. Today, almost a hundred years on, we still live in difficult times, and the poem could be contemporary in the feelings it expresses, if not in style.


  1. I am an ardently appreciative of Teasdale's poetry, thanks so much for sharing. I see you are from Victoria, I am from the smaller Whidbey Island South of there, pleasure to find your site, much obliged, Daniel

    1. Thank you for your comment! I am not too too familiar with Teasdale yet, but what I have read struck me as quite special.

      Yes, I'm originally from Victoria although now living in England. I do miss that part of the world and I get back every year or two to visit family and friends. It was a great place to grow up. I admit I was not too familiar with Whidbey Island (just looked it up) but I don't know the Puget Sound islands particularly well. I feel like I need to go back and explore...