‘Let It Be Forgotten’ by Sara Teasdale

Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten forever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.

If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long-forgotten snow.

This is a soft, chanting lament for some undefined past glory such as love that has died, or youth that has passed.

Teasdale repeats her mantra, “Let it be forgotten” throughout the piece. To me, this repeated phrase could be an incantation or a prayer; she is willing herself to forget, but can’t. Is she afraid to speak of it? And why? It could also be a challenge or dare put to the reader, saying ‘I dare you to forget something so beautiful’. Another reading might suggest that she is so sure of the value of what she has lost, that she is careless of whether others remember it or not: “Let it be forgotten” — because it doesn’t matter; it was glorious while it lasted, and that is all that counts. Like all great poems, this one can be read in multiple ways.

The poet holds up two important images in this poem: the “flower” and the “fire”. “Let it be forgotten”, she writes, like a “flower” is forgotten, or a “fire that was once singing gold”. I love that image of the “singing gold”; for me, it really evokes the passionate love of youth. The flower and the fire are both things that are beautiful, but which cannot last; it is a certainty that they will one day either die or burn out. It is perhaps even the very fact that these things are ephemeral that makes them so beautiful.

Teasdale has a great talent for sad beauty, and I just adore the melancholic tone of this poem. She has understood what Keats said of melancholy in his Ode on Melancholy: “She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die”. But melancholy though the poem is, Teasdale nevertheless maintains the sense that her internal life is rich because of what she has possessed in this love or youth. There is a secret joy hidden in the poem. There is a wistfulness and a longing in the long-vowelled rhyme scheme that makes this piece truly musical.

In the final verse it becomes clear that the poet has not forgotten this love or youth or passion that she is evoking. “If anyone asks”, she writes, “say it was forgotten”. The language here implies deceit; she hasn’t forgotten at all; she just wants people to think she has. Perhaps she does not wish to talk about it because it is too powerful a memory — too wonderful a thing. Or perhaps it is simply impossible to put into words.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh