‘After Love’ by Sara Teasdale utilizes its form, rhyme scheme, and figurative language to express a relationship situation where, despite the “peace” and “safe[ty]” felt within it, the narrator still feels disappointed. This disappointment stems from how much the relationship has changed since its beginning and the routine nature that now encumbers the circumstance. Overall, the theme of ‘After Love’ deals with a desire to be vibrant and active, as well as an underlying warning of what may come to be if a poor situation is allowed to stand for too long.
After Love Analysis
There is no magic any more,
We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
Nor I for you.
This beginning stanza addresses a relationship that is clearly stepping away from the initial romanticism that gave it original appeal. Specifically, “[t]here is no magic any more,” speaks of a lack of enchantment that is representative of something figurative rather than actual “magic.” Just as people refer to a spark or some kind of allure that saturates an initial moment of greeting for love, this “magic” indicates that in the early stages of this relationship, the couple was caught in the wonder of everything so much that reality was not a necessary quality. The connection, essentially, was new and endearing, something dazzling and enamoring, and once this started to fade, the narrator’s interest began to decrease.
This concept gains merit in the notion of what is criticized for not being present in the relationship—“no miracle” happening for either party—as well as the criticism offered by the plainly spoken account of their more recent encounters—that they “meet as other people do.” Essentially, there is nothing beyond the basic elements of the relationship remain, and the narrator seems to be unhappy about this concept. In fact, this idea of the relationship being routine and ordinary is addressed as well in the cut-and-dry rhyme scheme of ABCB. Little variation is there, but a constant understanding of what lines will rhyme is present, giving the overall work a monotone feeling to represent the now-boring relationship.
The format of the stanza, additionally, gives evidence to an underlying concept within the work in that while the first and third lines are left-aligned, Lines Two and Four have an indentation. This is a form that is mimicked for the remainder of ‘After Love’, which represents the overall attitude of the narrator toward the relationship. It holds the narrator back—pulls them into something trivial again and again—as is indicated by the left-aligned lines. The indentations represent the narrator’s desires, and perhaps even motions, to leave the relationship behind, only to be brought back into the routine and ordinary world of left-aligned. In this, the reader can literally see the back-and-forth mentality of the narrator in regard to this relationship.
You were the wind and I the sea—
There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
Beside the shore.
This stanza takes the commentary on the change in the relationship into a much more vivid representation that still exists in the figurative realm. Specifically, the couple began their romance as “the wind and… the sea.” Both of these elements, separately, are strong and fierce—things of wonder as well as danger. When brought together, amazing and energetic things can happen, like a hurricane or a tsunami. While there is danger to be had in these scenarios, the representation remains strong in that when the couple first encountered one another, too much energy and potential was present for the world around them to feel calm or still.
Since the “splendor” left, however, the narrator has “grown listless as the pool [b]eside the shore.” The comparison in activity, as well as the size of the bodies of water, is telling in this scenario. A pool is very calm, so that while the water moves and shifts, it does so in a peaceful, continuous, and predictable way. That she now feels “listless” is an indication that she has fallen into a situation where little is keeping her interest, and she is looking toward something more exciting to catch her eye, like a “pool” that was “[b]eside the shore.” It is trapped in its small confines while the vastness of “the sea” is tantalizingly near. Similarly, the narrator feels trapped and yearns for something more boundless.
Another clue about the narrator’s mentality can be found in the notion that while she started the relationship as a “sea,” which is massive and powerful, she now compares herself to something much smaller: “the pool.” This could stand as evidence that not only does she see the relationship as something tedious and boring, but she also feels like it has taken too much from her, as if she is much less the person she was when she entered it. If such is the case, her frustration would be reasonable, particularly with the back-and-forth concept of attempting to leave that was already noted in the stanzas’ format. She’s less than she was and bored, but she has yet to succeed in leaving as she wishes to do.
But though the pool is safe from storm
And from the tide has found surcease,
It grows more bitter than the sea,
For all its peace.
Here in ‘After Love’, the narrator admits that there are still benefits to be had within the relationship, such as the “safe” quality it brings and the “peace” that it allows. However, these details are not enough to calm the narrator’s desire for the earlier excitement that once was present. Rather, she “grows more bitter” in the midst the good things, still frustrated with what the relationship lacks.
One interesting thing about this stanza is that “the tide” is treated as a danger that “has found surcease,” as if this is a good thing about the relationship. Contrariwise, though, the combination of “wind” and “sea” in Stanza Two was treated as if it were the main attraction from the relationship. It could be, with this in mind, the narrator recognizes that her desire for the earlier tumult of “magic” in the relationship is not logical due to the passage of time. In fact, she may even recognize that the stability that has been gained as time continues is an advantage to the relationship because it has grown deeper and more dependable. Still, she remains unhappy over what was lost and “listless” in spite of the “peace.”
It is worth noting, as well, that the narrator expresses no mention of abandoning the relationship. Rather, it seems, the relationship is still something that while she has grown bored with it, she will continue. Perhaps, then, this is the theme for ‘After Love’ —that holding onto something beyond its favorable point leads to a constant source of “bitter[ness].” Another potential theme is that the human spirit can have such a roaming desire that nothing will ever be able to quell it. Either way, the format, rhyme scheme, and word choices make the ideas viable rationales to take from the poem.
About Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale was born in 1884, and her life ended in 1933 when she committed suicide. Her works have been noted for their emotional aspects in particular, as well as her way to manipulate words like a true artist. She was an award-winning writer.