‘Moonlight’ is one of Sara Teasdale’s lesser-known works. However, it memorably captures the sorrows of youth, the fleeting nature of beauty, and the peace and wisdom that comes with old age.
Moonlight Sara Teasdale It will not hurt me when I am old, A running tide where moonlight burned Will not sting me like silver snakes; The years will make me sad and cold, It is the happy heart that breaks. The heart asks more than life can give, When that is learned, then all is learned; The waves break fold on jewelled fold, But beauty itself is fugitive, It will not hurt me when I am old.
Explore Moonlight by Sara Teasdale
‘Moonlight’ by Sara Teasdale is a poem about the sorrows of youth and the blissful nature of old age.
This lyrical poem starts with the speaker longing for old age. This is because the speaker believes that youth is full of pain and misery. They believe that this pain and misery arises out of happiness, and that they are two sides of the same coin. Old age, on the other hand, is sad and cold by itself, and there is no happiness to speak of. This is why the pain and misery that so affects youth does not have any impact on old age.
Beauty is a pervasive theme in the poem. The poem’s title, ‘Moonlight’ is a symbol for beauty, and the speaker says that the desire for beauty is what causes pain and sorrow in youth.
Age is a significant theme as well. The speaker is young and seems to be plagued by all the things that plague youth. This is why they desire old age, even if it means they are not going to experience any happiness in old age. They believe that the wisdom they have gained when they are older will be enough to allay any pain they may feel as life passes them by.
Pain and suffering is another theme that can be gleaned from the poem. The speaker is troubled – we are not sure why, but we know that they are looking for a way out.
Throughout the poem, Sara Teasdale makes use of several literary devices, including (but not limited to):
- Simile: the poet uses a simile to liken the running tide illuminated by moonlight to the sting of “silver snakes.” Here, the speaker says that youth is capable of being stung by several things, but beauty in particular. The sting is similar to the pain that is felt when bitten by silver snakes.
- Repetition: the poet repeats the first line of the poem, “It will not hurt me when I am old” at the end of the poem. This emphasizes the longing within the speaker for old age – when they will be rid of these painful and sorrowful feelings they are experiencing in their youth.
- Personification: the heart is personified and given human-like qualities. For instance, the heart is called “happy” in youth. It is also shown as asking for something more than what is possible for it to have. Life is also personified in the poem to show that it is incapable of giving everything that the heart wants.
- Symbolism: the title of the poem, ‘Moonlight,’ is a symbol for the beauty of life. It represents both the good and the bad – since beauty is capable of making life worth living, but also painful at the same time. This is why the speaker says that the running tide that is illuminated by the burning moonlight (something which would ordinarily be thought of as awe-inspiring and magnificent) is capable of stinging the speaker like snakes.
It will not hurt me when I am old,
A running tide where moonlight burned
Will not sting me like silver snakes;
The years will make me sad and cold,
It is the happy heart that breaks.
Something is bothering the speaker in her youth. Is it life? Is it beauty? Or perhaps it is youth itself. The speaker is happy in their youth, but they are aware that happiness has the potential to bring sorrow and pain. They find themselves longing for old age, where one is no longer happy but cold and sorrowful. The speaker believes that in old age, those things that trouble youth are no longer going to be relevant. The running tide of life will no longer affect them, because life has gone past them already in their later years.
The heart asks more than life can give,
When that is learned, then all is learned;
The waves break fold on jewelled fold,
But beauty itself is fugitive,
It will not hurt me when I am old.
In this stanza, the problem with youth is revealed. The speaker says that in youth, people want more than what they can have. This is usually related to desired beauty and this is what causes sorrow, pain, and misery. However, it is in old age that people learn to be content with what they have. These are the pearls of wisdom that people gain in later life (‘jewelled fold’), and these pearls of wisdom are capable of taking on life’s assaults without being broken. Instead, they break the running tide of life and allow people to take life’s trials in stride.
Beauty is not sought in old age as it is in youth. This is because the old understand that beauty is not eternal, it is only temporary. The poem ends with a repetition of the first line “It will not hurt me when I am old” to reiterate the fact that the nature of pain is fleeting; it does not hold any effect over those who are older, wiser, and content with what they have.
The speaker in ‘Moonlight’ is an unnamed narrator. We do not know whether the speaker is male or female. All we know is that they are young and waiting for the peace that comes with old age.
Sara Teasdale died in 1933 at the age of 49. She contracted severe pneumonia but this is not what killed her. Teasdale committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.
Sara Teasdale was an American poet who was known for her simple lyric poetry that spoke about the beauty of life.
Sara Teasdale was an American lyrical poet who was influenced by several people including the actress Duse, and a British poet named Christina Rossetti. She was also influenced by numerous trips to Europe which began in 1905.
Readers who enjoyed reading ‘Moonlight’ should consider reading some other Sara Teasdale poems. For example:
- ‘Winter Stars‘ – this poem talks about the constancy of nature and its unwavering beauty in the face of change in the human world.
- ‘February Twilight’ – this poem elaborates the joy that comes with solitude, especially when one is surrounded by nature.
Other poems that could be of interest to readers of ‘Moonlight‘ include:
- ‘Fly Away, Fly Away Over the Sea’: this is a short poem by Christina Rossetti that speaks of summer and longing.
- ‘Youth and Age‘: this poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge elucidates the nature of aging in a positive manner, and speaks of youth as characteristic of the mind, rather than the body.