Yesterday was some kind of day to celebrate Wales, and I asked the teenager in the house what they did to celebrate since they have an interest in languages and had recently been studying Welsh language online.
“You mean for St. David’s Day?” They replied. I was surprised they knew — but then they’re often surprising. “What are you supposed to do?”
“I dunno. Maybe make a point to use W as a vowel?”
What did I do? I worked, using some increasingly rare time recently, on a new piece here that you may see later this month with words by Welsh poet Edward Thomas. But that’s not today. Today is my catching up with a piece that has been in the works for a couple of weeks at least, remaining unfinished as other concerns remand me to only hot takes and short contributions on Twitter.
Those I follow in the British Isles are sharing pictures of buds and first wildflowers. Not here.
Is Sara Teasdale’s “Winter Stars” late then? In my upper Midwest, absolutely not. Monday it snowed, my bicycle which I’ve ridden all winter, is behind a shed door whose jam is frozen completely shut by an icy enchantment after melt/refreeze — and 15 degrees F. this morning certainly won’t let it go. Yet, there’s one other time displacement to account for in this poem, for this is another of Teasdale’s poems about WWI. Particularly in Great Britain, when “War Poets” are mentioned, male citizen-soldiers are typically meant, and few now recall that American poet Teasdale wrote poems about the war. One of those poems is likely her best-known poem (or at least poem title, since Ray Bradbury borrowed it) “There Will Come Soft Rains.” So lovely and complete is that dystopian vision within itself that I suspect it never occurs to readers today that she was writing it in the context of WWI.
“Winter Stars” has the same strengths of not seeming to be stuck in time or current events. Indeed, folks have written about the poem and thought the blood flowing and wars mentioned within its lines are metaphoric tropes. Alas, as I considered this poem during this past February, the anniversary of the still ongoing invasion of Ukraine provided a corresponding all-too-actual simile. Here’s a link to the full text of Teasdale’s poem.
Teasdale’s night stars are then, like the sure-to-come soft rains of her other poem, a meditation on what endures when suffering, violence, and human vanity can change everything else. I was particularly taken with the next to last quatrain in Teasdale’s poem, remembering as I read it her guarded and constrained by illness childhood looking out a bedroom window at the immortal stars and the mighty Orion, the hunter, who could change and master things.
In the poem, it turns out that Orion doesn’t change things, rather that desire to change things is the constant. Teasdale would leave her sick-room childhood in St. Louis, find some brief success in New York. That older Teasdale is the writer of this lyric. Armies can march, hunting changeable borders to be drawn in blood. Teasdale seems to somehow fatalistically know that Orion and winter never leave, they only blink, they’re always there, the hunter and the prey.
The player gadget to hear my performance of Sara Teasdale’s “Winter Stars” is below for many of you. No player to be found? This highlighted link will open a new tab window with a player so you can hear it too.