‘My heart is heavy’ by Sara Teasdale

My heart is heavy with many a song
Like ripe fruit bearing down the tree,
But I can never give you one –
My songs do not belong to me.

Yet in the evening, in the dusk
When moths go to and fro,
In the gray hour if the fruit has fallen,
Take it, no one will know.

I find Sara Teasdale’s poems to be incredibly touching. This one in particular moves me with its sad, wistful tone and sense of secrecy.

The way the poet describes her heart as being heavy with “song” is starkly unusual. Normally, I think of song as a joyful thing, or at least a thing that gives release to creativity; I don’t think of song as something that would make the heart heavy. These songs are “ripe fruit”, full of goodness and potential for pleasure, but the poet’s heart is heavy because she cannot “give you one”. Her songs or poems have become a weight on her heart because they “do not belong to [her]”. She cannot give her song, her poem, her heart, to the person she wants.

It seems likely that this poem was written for Vachel Lindsay, who courted Teasdale when they were young and wrote her many love letters, yet who did not have enough money to marry her. Sara Teasdale married a wealthy business man called Filsinger instead, but the marriage was very unhappy and ended in divorce. Teasdale never dropped her friendship with Vachel Lindsay, though he also married and had children with another woman, and they both committed suicide within two years of each other.

When I read this poem I feel like it is full of regret and full secret love for Vachel Lindsay. The way she says “My songs do not belong to me” evokes the idea that her heart, her body, even her soul no longer belong to her, but to her husband. She cannot write a poem for Lindsay, or a love letter, or see him because she is married. Yet I love the way she asks her loved one to take the fallen fruit — to take her song — in the evening when “no one will know.” It is irresistibly secretive and sad.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh