It will not hurt me when I am old,
A running tide where moonlight burned
Will not sting me like silver snakes;
The years will make me sad and cold,
It is the happy heart that breaks.
The heart asks more than life can give,
When that is learned, then all is learned;
The waves break fold on jewelled fold,
But beauty itself is fugitive,
It will not hurt me when I am old.
-- Sarah Teasdale
Hap Notes: I have a bit of a tough itinerary planned for this week so I thought we'd start out gently. This Teasdale poem, as simple as it seems is saying something far darker than just the memory of past beauty and life is fleeting.
Is she trying to convince us or herself that memories of beauty will not hurt? And isn't it her realization that "the heart asks more than life can give" the idea that may hurt most of all?
While it's true that memories cannot physically come up and slap you in the face, how does one describe the hurt that is inside of the heart? How can one's heart, happy or no, be hurt? What are we really talking about when we say "the heart?" It's not the bi-valved blood pumping organ in our chests that feels the sting of memory-- so what is it?
There is a wistful beauty in the way the constant sea keeps coming up to the shore and the way life keeps going on, springing anew, changing. It will not hurt you when you are old but it does do something to a thoughtful person. What is it?
This is a pensive Teasdale thinking about her old age long before it will come. In many ways it is the sad imaginings of what it is like to be old before one gets there. In reality, old age is not nearly as "sad and cold" for some as Teasdale imagines it. Much of what she is saying is what she is feeling in her youth about about something that is already hurting her which she predicts will fade in time to a sad coldness.
Speaking strictly from my own agedness, I can argue that life is richer and sweeter as one ages regardless of what beauty and heartbreak one has seen in their lifetime. The only thing that will leave you sad and cold in your old age is NOT feeling the way Teasdale describes in her youth in this poem.
Your heart is not glass (no matter Debbie Harry's [Blondie] song to the contrary) and if it does figuratively "break" now and again, it is, as Woody Allen said "a resilient little muscle." You have to keep "breaking" your heart to feel truly alive, otherwise you will be sad and cold in your old age.
But the poem does strike the right note for a loving sorrow, yes? Moonlight brings this out in us, doesn't it?
Here's where we've talked about Teasdale before: happopoemouse.blogspot.com/2011/05/number-160-sara-teasdale-there-will.html