‘A Winter Blue Jay’ is an effortlessly optimistic and lyrical poem written by the American poet, Sara Teasdale. The poem is contained within 25 lines and has no distinct rhyme scheme. It does though have a number of half end rhymes which help to unify the beginning with the end.
Summary of “A Winter Blue Jay”
The poem begins by placing the couple in a snow-covered landscape, walking through the “whisper[ing]” snow, enjoying a quiet moment. Their shadows are “danc[ing]” behind them, creating a beautiful pattern of light. It is clear that this moment is not one that comes often.
They continue on their walk and come upon skaters on a frozen lake who gracefully, without fault, weave around one another. Their grace and effortless beauty mimic the day and improve upon it still. Finally, the speaker asks if they have reached the “highest point” of their happiness and she decides that they have not as her companion points out a bluejay. The jay is proud of it’s own form and fearless in its assertions of life. The bird is like their love is that day, without worry for the future and enjoying the perfect moment the day has brought.
The poem concludes with an optimistic statement about happiness. That when one believes they have reached the pinnacle of their life, in which nothing could increase their joy, there may be more around the corner waiting for them.
Analysis of A Winter Blue Jay
Crisply the bright snow whispered,
Crunching beneath our feet;
Behind us as we walked along the parkway,
Our shadows danced,
Fantastic shapes in vivid blue.
Teasdale starts ‘A Winter Blue Jay’ by introducing the reader to a sublime snow-covered landscape. Her speaker, perhaps speaking with Teasdale’s own voice, is being accompanied by another as she walks through this environment. She begins by speaking of how the crunching of the snow beneath their feet sounds like “whisper[ing].”
The speaker wants to make clear that this is not an instance in which they are trudging through a cold wasteland, but happily and lightly walking through a beautiful landscape.
Behind the walking couple, their “shadows” were dancing. The light from the sun is reflecting off of the snow creating a flashing pattern of lights and making their shadows flutter over the landscape. The vision of these shadows, along with the way in which the speaker describes them as “Fantastic shapes in vivid blue” enhancing the image of a kind of wonderland.
Across the lake the skaters
Flew to and fro,
With sharp turns weaving
A frail invisible net.
As the poem continues the speaker expands the reader’s view of this world. She explains that she could see a lake, and across it, “skaters” who were flying “to and fro” across its frozen surface. Each part of this world that the speaker has so far described is perfect, there are no errors in the skaters’ form, no falls, no cracked ice, or freezing cold. Everything appears to be exactly as one would hope it would be on a perfect day.
The skaters weave patterns around each other, creating, with the blades of their skates on the ice, the shape of a net as they crisscross.
In ecstasy the earth
Drank the silver sunlight;
In ecstasy the skaters
Drank the wine of speed;
In ecstasy we laughed
Drinking the wine of love.
It is not only the speaker that is appreciating this scene, the earth itself, “In ecstasy” is drinking in the “silver sunlight.” The skaters too are enthralled by the moment and they are, “In ecstasy” drinking in the “wine of speed” as they fly across the lake. The speed of the moment is described as being intoxicating like wine, the faster they go, the happier and more carefree they are. So too may be described the impact of this day, the farther the walking couple go, the more they see, the happier and more at peace they are. They were also, “In ecstasy” as they “laughed” and became more and more intoxicated “Drinking the wine of love.”
Had not the music of our joy
Sounded its highest note?
For suddenly, with lifted eyes you said,
There, on the black bough of a snow flecked maple,
Fearless and gay as our love,
A bluejay cocked his crest!
At this point in ‘A Winter Blue Jay’, more than halfway through the poem, it begins its conclusion. The speaker takes a look at the situation from farther away, perhaps from another day. She sees that they, she and her companion, had that day reach their peak. It was the happiest time that they knew, their “highest note.” She questions this assertion and decides, “no,” for moments later the day improves further.
For the first time, her companion speaks, drawing her attention to a bluejay that is cocking his crest in the “snow flecked maple” above them. The bird represents their own love, it is “Fearless,” “gay,” and without concern for the future at that moment.
Oh who can tell the range of joy
Or set the bounds of beauty?
‘A Winter Blue Jay’ concludes with two lines that are entirely hopeful. The speaker asks, how can one ever determine where the limits of joy and beauty are? Why she is asking, should there ever be a limit? And when one believes they have reached it, they may very well surpass what they believed was the “highest note” of their “music of joy.”
About Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale was born in 1884 in St.Louis, Missouri, and was an American lyric poet whose work was mainly concerned with beauty, love, and death. She was known to work her own experiences into her poetry, from those of youth to those of depression around the time of her suicide in 1933.
She grew up in a staunchly religious household and was privately educated. Teasdale’s first poem was published in Reedy’s Mirror in 1907 and in that same year she published her first book, Sonnets to Duse, and Other Poems. He was married in 1914 and moved with her husband to New York in 1916. She worked throughout this period on her own poetry as well as editing two anthologies, The Answering Voice: One Hundred Love Lyrics by Women, and Rainbow Gold for Children.
Her poems are well known for their emotional subject matter and lyrical language. She gained fame during her lifetime and won the first Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1918.