In ‘Winter Stars’ Teasdale speaks on themes of change, aging, and the universe. Through very poetic and lyrical language and diction, she describes the nature of time, its inescapability, and the sorrows it can bring. By the end of the poem though, rather than depressive, the mood is contemplative and peaceful.
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Summary of Winter Stars
The poem takes the reader through the emotional landscape of a speaker who is overcome with sorrow. She thinks back to a time she walked on the beach at night and in her moments in the darkness recalled her youthful fondness for the stars. Orion shone brightly in the sky then just as it did in her youth. The poem concludes with the speaker describing how everything in the world changes except for the stars in the night sky.
Structure of Winter Stars
‘Winter Stars’ by Sara Teasdale is a four stanza poem that’s separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. The lines do not conform to a specific metrical pattern.
In addition to the rhyme scheme, there are moments of half-rhyme within the text. Also known as slant or partial rhyme, half-rhyme is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example “flowing” and “sorrow” in the first stanza and “head” and “steadily” in the second stanza.
Poetic Techniques in Winter Stars
Teasdale makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Winter Stars’. These include alliteration, enjambment, and anaphora. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “shadows shaken on the snow” in line two of the second stanza. Or, in line two of stanza three: “Dreaming my dreams”.
Teasdale also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. This can be seen through the use of the first-person pronoun “I” at the beginning of four of the sixteen lines.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are several examples in this piece, include the transitions between lines one and two of the second stanza and three and four of the fourth stanza.
Analysis of Winter Stars
I went out at night alone;The young blood flowing beyond the seaSeemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—I bore my sorrow heavily.
In the first stanza of ‘Winter Stars,’ the speaker begins by telling the reader that she went outside at “night alone”. There, she felt able to clearly experience her own sorrow. She describes it as flowing “beyond the sea”. It had influenced her so heavily that her “spirit’s wings” seemed as though they’d been drenched in its waters. They were weighed down, heavy, unable to lift her off the ground. This metaphor represents the speaker’s own spiritual depression. Something happened that made her sorrowful. It transformed her negatively.
But when I lifted up my headFrom shadows shaken on the snow,I saw Orion in the eastBurn steadily as long ago.
She remembers how while walking outside she lifted up her head and saw “Orion in the east”. Teasdale depicts the constellation in the darkness of the night. It was in a brief moment that she caught its light when she lifted herself from “shadows shaken on the snow”. The constellation brings to mind the past. It reminds her that time has progressed, but some things have remained the same. The constellation is still there, where it was when she was a child so “long ago”.
This thought takes her back to a more specific memory in the next stanza.
From windows in my father’s house,Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,I watched Orion as a girlAbove another city’s lights.
In the third stanza of ‘Winter Stars’, the speaker remembers when she was a child. She can recall standing in her father’s house, looking out the window. Teasdale makes use of alliteration again in the second line to describe how the constellation became important in her youthful dreams.
She would stare at the collection of stars and dream her “dreams on winter nights”. This is a very peaceful memory, similar in setting but different in mood to that which she is recalling in the central portion of the poem. She was happier then than she was on the beach that night.
Connected with her recollections on the beach, she remembers how looking at the stars always made her think of “another city’s lights”. There are endless collections of people, all looking up at the same stars that she could see from her father’s window.
Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,All things are changed, save in the eastThe faithful beauty of the stars.
In the final four lines of ‘Winter Stars,’ the speaker emphasizes one of the major themes of this work, time and its endless progression. She speaks on the passage of years and dreams, and finally, youth. Everything changes and people move on mentally and physically.
Teasdale speaks poetically in the remaining lines of the text. She goes into the general loss that is suffered throughout the world “beneath” or because of “its wars”. The only thing, she concludes, that remains the same, is the “faithful beauty of the stars”.