The Long Hill by Sara Teasdale uses the extended metaphor of climbing a hill to represent the journey of life, with all the highs and lows featured on the way. The scene is cloudy, and Teasdale cannot see exactly where she is going, nor where the peak is. Without realizing it, she has now passed over the peak of her life, with the depressing recognition that the rest of her life will metaphorically be downhill from here onward.
Climbing her metaphorical hill, The Long Hill by Sara Teasdale focuses on the uncertainty about when one ‘peaks’ in life. Teasdale cannot see ahead or behind her, and is therefore disappointed to realize that she ‘passed the crest’ of her life ‘a while ago’. The poet suggests that there is a moment in life when we all reach our ‘peak’, with everything else just ‘going down’. Teasdale’s attitude to life is depressing, but hauntingly realistic.
You can read the full poem here.
Teasdale splits The Long Hill into three stanzas of four lines each, three quatrains. The regularity of the poem could be used to further the apparent monotony of life which Teasdale is presenting. There is no deviation in form, with each stanza carrying an ABAB rhyme scheme. Teasdale uses structure to represent the idea that without knowing it, she has peaked in her life, with the rest all being downhill until its end. The depressing reality of this statement is furthered by the consistency of the form, with the slow and methodic rhythm of The Long Hill reflecting her own apathy to life.
The Long Hill Analysis
The title presents two main ideas. The first, if we are understanding this whole poem as a metaphor to depict life, is the idea that it is ‘long’. Life is ‘long’, day after day arriving and going without any notion of when the end is coming. Part of Teasdale’s argument is that she cannot see the end, nor the next step on her path, and therefore life seems ‘long’, considering we cannot see the end. The second idea Teasdale is exploring is the central metaphor, a ‘hill’ – having peaks and troughs, while also containing the idea of a journey, being the perfect representation of life. Life is commonly represented as a journey, Teasdale using the metaphor of a ‘long hill’ to engage with this idea.
The beginning word of the poem, ‘I’, instantly focuses on the personal pronoun. Indeed, this pome is about Teasdale’s personal experiences, a representation of her life. Therefore, by beginning with a pronoun that insinuates an engagement with the personal, Teasdale is emphasizing the notion of the self being at the core of the poem.
The modality of ‘must’ suggests that although Teasdale does not know exactly when, she understands that she has ‘passed the crest a while ago’. There is a sense of disappointment in this, with ‘I must have’ also seemingly like Teasdale is admitting defeat. If we focus on the literal portion of this poem, this image suggests that Teasdale has been searching for the summit, only to have walked right over it without knowing – a frustrating and disappointing idea.
The symbolism of ‘the crest’ links to the idea of a summit of the hill, with Teasdale suggesting that she has reached the peak of her life without knowing it. Not only this, but the peak was actually ‘a while ago’, with the poet unknowingly ‘going down’ ever since.
The harshness of ‘going down’, emphasized due to the end stop that follows it furthers the sense of deflation Teasdale feels, disappointed at how her life has peaked without her knowledge.
The focus on ‘crossed’ suggests that there is no going back – this is a before and after construct, with the peak only being accessed once. Teasdale has ‘crossed the crest’ and is never able to go back, the linear nature of time signifying that she must continue ‘going down’ until the end. The emphasis the poet places on this idea, the metrical disruption stemming from a hyphen ‘to know —‘ furthers her sense of dejection, sadly realizing the trajectory of the rest of her life.
‘Morning’ with the poem carries multiple connotations. Literally this represents how she began her climb of The Long Hill in the ‘morning’, spending the earlier parts of her walk thinking about how fantastic it would feel to reach the top. This then shifts into metaphor if we approach the journey as actually representing her life, ‘morning’ representing youth and the beginning of her life, with the day steadily advancing till its end.
The posture, standing ‘straight’ at the top of the hill, combined with ‘queen’ exemplifies Teasdale’s sense of being ‘proud’ of reaching the top of the hill. The ‘world under me’ relates to feeling on top of the world, ecstatically happy due to everything she has fought for and achieved. Metaphorically this is the moment in life where you realize you have achieved exactly what you wanted, Teasdale savoring the thought of this moment as she grows up. Having now ‘crossed the crest’, without even realizing her success, Teasdale is rightfully disappointed, her illusion failing away as reality takes over.
Now back on ‘the beaten track’, Teasdale continues her on with her life. The ‘brambles’ that ‘caught in my gown’ represent inconveniences along the way, things that slow down and hamper her journey. Although uncomfortable with the current state of her life, and the disappointment of realizing that she has already peaked, Teasdale must press on. Indeed, there is ‘no use now to think of turning back’, Teasdale presents the depressing notion that it is better to accept and move on with your life, rather than get caught up with reminiscing for a lost past.
The final line of the poem cements the depressive message of the poem, ‘the rest of the way will only be going down’, suggesting that life tapers off into a consistently less interesting chain of events. Teasdale missed her peak, and the rest of her life is all downhill. A depressing take on the journey of life.