Throughout ‘Longing,’ Sara Teasdale depicts a speaker’s opinion on her body and her soul. The speaker is clear-headed and easy to understand throughout. Teasdale chose to use simple language and diction, meaning that the lines of ‘Longing’ are widely readable. This piece is also a great example of the lyrical style for which Teasdale is well-known today.
Summary of Longing
In the first quatrains of ‘Longing,’ the speaker begins by explaining that she doesn’t feel sorry for her soul (a sentiment she repeats later on in the poem). Her soul is going to live on, finding a place for itself in eternity. Rather, she adds in the second stanza. She feels bad for her body. It’s going to die, waste away, and end up back in the dirt and dust in which it originated. There, it’s never going to find the joy it looked for throughout life.
Themes in Longing
Teasdale explores themes of life, death, and eternity in ‘Longing.’ Through the short lines of the poem, the poet addresses the future of her body and the soul, one of which has a better time ahead of it than the other. Her speaker is well aware that she’s going to die and that her body is going to disappear back into the earth. There is no future for her physical form. But, for her soul, it has eternity in front of it.
Structure and Form
‘Longing’ by Sara Teasdale is a two-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds in the second stanza. There is also an example of an exact rhyme at the ends of the first lines of both stanzas with “soul.”
Readers should also note the almost consistent use of iambic tetrameter throughout the lines of ‘Longing.’ This refers to the number of syllables per line and whether or not they are stressed or unstressed. In this case, the majority of the lines contain four sets of two beats, the first of which is usually stressed and the second of which is unstressed.
Teasdale makes use of several literary devices in ‘Longing.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, half-rhyme, and alliteration. The latter is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “sorry” and “soul” in lines one of both stanzas and “But” and “body” in line two of the second stanza. There are several other examples, as well.
Half-rhyme is one of several types of rhyme that can be used in poetry. It occurs when the poet repeats a similar sound in words, making them rhyme partially but not entirely. For example, “times” and “wide,” with the long “i” vowel sound and “soul” and “go” with the short “o” vowel sound.
Enjambment is a common formal device that occurs in poems when a poet cuts off a line before the natural conclusion of a phrase. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines two, three, and four of the second stanza.
Analysis of Longing
I am not sorry for my soul
That it must go unsatisfied,
For it can live a thousand times,
Eternity is deep and wide.
In the first lines of stanza one of ‘Longing,’ Teasdale’s speaker begins by using what’s known as a refrain. This is a line of text that appears more than once in the poem. In this case, the first line of both stanzas is exactly the same. She tells the reader that she’s not “sorry” for her “soul.” She doesn’t pity it when death comes for her. It has another life ahead of it. It can “live a thousand times,” she adds. This alludes to a belief in reincarnation or some kind of new life, perhaps in another realm, such as the Christian Heaven.
In the last line of this stanza, the speaker adds that “Eternity is deep and wide.” Teasdale’s lyrical style is on full display here. This line is evocative of what lies ahead for the “soul” but not for the body, as the second stanza explores.
I am not sorry for my soul,
But oh, my body that must go
Back to a little drift of dust
Without the joy it longed to know.
The second stanza, as mentioned above, begins with the same line that’s used at the start of the first stanza. The speaker says that she’s not sorry for her soul (because it’s going to live forever in one form or another). Instead, she expresses sorrow for her “body that must go.” It’s going to die, fall apart, and end up back in the “little drift of dust.” This is all going to happen, she concludes, “Without the joy, it longed to know.” This line suggests that the speaker feels as though she’s going to live and die without finding the true joy she always wanted. Her body is going to die unsatisfied and still “longing.”
Readers who enjoyed ‘Longing’ should also consider reading some of Sara Teasdale’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘The Ghost’ – describes a speaker’s unwelcome experience after reuniting with two ex-lovers in a city she used to know. She dwells on the past, what could’ve been, and how it’s different from what she knows now.
- ‘Alone’ – a confessional lyric poem that expresses the poet’s loneliness and belief that peace will only come for her after death, relating quite well to ‘Longing.’
- ‘A Winter Blue Jay’ – depicts a perfect day in which the speaker and her companion reach the heights of their love.