Why Sara Teasdale’s ‘A November Night’ Needs no Critical Analysis

As you may have gathered by now, ‘Lamb, No Lion’ is about sensitivity, sentimentality and tenderness in literature. I have sought to find the softness and delicacy in literature and to share it here — I’ve discussed the light playfulness that exists in Joyce’s heavy novel, Ulysses and the infrequent moments of beautiful meaning in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises — but never have I found it so difficult to wrap my head around a text as I have when trying to think about these things in Sara Teasdale’s lovely poem, ‘We Two Alone: A November Night’.

I had never heard of Sara Teasdale a couple of months ago and was shocked to learn that the lady who had won what was to become the first  Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1922 was not a more celebrated figure in the literary canon — after reading a few of her poems I was even more surprised that I’d never read her work before! I was introduced to Teasdale by a wonderful company called Obvious State. I’m a long-time lover of Obvious State and an admirer (and owner!!!) of the beautiful artwork sold on their website and when I saw the ‘Blind Date’s that they were offering, I fell even deeper in love . The idea is that you pre-order a ‘Blind Date’ and you receive a beautifully illustrated, pocket-sized book and thematically related Obvious State goodies to go alongside it; the text and the author is a surprise until it shows up at your door (you do get a few clues as to what they text might be though if you’re not a gambler!). Anyway, I ordered the November’s Blind Date’ and Sara Teasdale was my date for the night. ‘A November Night’ is a beautiful poem about being in love — the light, dreamy kind of love that your eleven-year-old self always dreamed of — and the Obvious State edition, illustrated by Evan Robertson is equally as lovely.

As beautiful as I thought the poem was, however, something bothered me about ‘A November Night’ and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Obvious State run a podcast called ‘Literary Happy Hour’ (this isn’t an ad I promise, I just love them) and there is an episode on ‘A November Night’; I thought I’d have a listen to see what others thought of the poem, and whether it was just me that had reservations about it.

Evan Robertson calls ‘A November Night’ ‘charming’, ‘honest’ and ‘unpretentious’, and I wholeheartedly agree. Teasdale’s poem is vulnerable without the presence of the fear that almost always comes alongside vulnerability. One poem that immediately comes to mind as being vulnerable, but shrouded with anxiety and fear, is a poem by Pablo Neruda, ‘Don’t go Far Off’:

‘Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;

may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.

Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest, because in that moment you’ll have gone so far

I’ll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,

Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?’.

The speaker loves the person that this poem is addressed to, that much is clear, but every line emanates with the dread, the horrible fear that the loved one may leave, may ‘dissolve’, may ‘go far off’. In comparison, Teasdale’s poem is dipped in gold, in the light, dancing feeling of pure and innocent love:

‘It is so long

Since I have seen you – four whole days, I think.

My heart is crowded full of foolish thoughts

Like early flowers in an April meadow.

And I must give them to you, all of them,

Before they fade’.

Robertson, too admires this about Teasdale’s poem: ‘writing a love poem without complication, without reference to fear, or loss, or death, or anything heavy’, he says, ‘is exceptionally hard to do […] it is deceptively simple and simple is one of the hardest things to do well’.

Three years of studying English Literature at university and two years before that, studying it for my A-Levels, has instilled in me the instinct to analyse each and every text that I read. Although the analysing of a text is, for me, part of the enjoyment of reading, I think, in this case, it was preventing me from appreciating the poem for what it is: ‘simple’. It’s so unusual to come across a poem as simple and honest, as beautiful, as far removed from pain and fear as Teasdale’s poem, that I wasn’t sure what to think once I’d finished reading it; there is no darkness from which to pick out the light.

Typically, the ‘Literary Happy Hour’ podcast is an-around-half-an-hour-long critical discussion of a text. The podcast on ‘A November Night’, however, is different. Evan discusses the text for a brief five minutes and continues the rest of the podcast with his wife, co-founder and creative director of Obvious State, Nichole Robertson, as they discuss their relationship and tell the story of how they met and maybe that’s how we should deal with ‘A November Night’.

However she has done it, Sara Teasdale has created a poem that allows the reader to feel the lighthearted, innocent and contented feeling of love, and maybe it’s okay that I found it difficult to think, critically, about ‘A November Night’; maybe the response should, as Evan and Nichole seem to recognise, be love, in response to love, and vulnerability, in response to vulnerability.

I don’t think that every poem needs analysis and I think this poem articulates that point perfectly. So I’m not going to read any further criticism of ‘A November Night’ and I won’t concern myself with how Sara Teasdale has created such a poem. I’m going just to let this one be as it is: a beautiful feeling, a precious moment, a celebration of vulnerability and love.

 

 

 

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