Updated date:

Sara Teasdale's "I Am Not Yours"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Sara Teasdale

Introduction and Text of "I Am Not Yours"

Taking the theme of deep and lasting love, the speaker in Teasdale's "I Am Not Yours" employs the poetic device of hyperbole to convey her emotion. Three riming quatrains using the traditional scheme of ABCB unfold the poem's drama.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

I Am Not Yours

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love—put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

Reading of "I Am Not Yours"

Commentary

In the hands of a less skilled artist, the love theme of this lyric often trots out a tired cliché, but Teasdale's speaker makes it fresh and new.

First Quatrain: No Romantic Exaggeration

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

The speaker directs her words to her beloved in an extraordinary manner, by claiming that she is not possessed by him and that she has not lost herself in his charms. While lovers are prone to exaggerate in artistic endeavors the level to which they have become part of their love one, this speaker dramatizes a very different approach. However, this speaker then changes her direction as she proclaims that even though she is "not lost in [him]," she desires wholeheartedly that she might become so. Thus, she states that she would like to be as is "a candle lit at noon." A candle at noon would barely show light at all as it would meld with the natural sunlight.

The speaker then asserts that she would like to become part of her beloved as "a snowflake in the sea." The oceanic presence of her beloved has engulfed her heart in such as way that she can liken herself to the smallness and malleability of a flake of snow melting in the ocean. The original claim that she does not belong to the addressee has now been set on its head. Although literally it will always be true that she is not his and she is not lost in him, her desire for that blending has caused her imagination to conjure such a state in a majestic manner of metaphorical supremacy.

Second Quatrain: Total Melding of Body, Mind, Soul

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

The second quatrain confirms that the speaker is, indeed, loved by the target of her desire. As she claims, "I am I," she hungers for annihilation of self, that is, to melt into her lover. Her drama continues the seeking after total blending of body, mind, and spirit with the beloved. The speaker continues to wish for that complete melding with her lover, as she has shown from the beginning of her drama. She wants to be totally consumed in the love she feels for him: to be "lost [in him] as light is lost in light."

Third Quatrain: Annihilation of Separation

Oh plunge me deep in love—put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

The final quatrain finds the speaker essentially begging for the awareness of her wish to experience complete emersion in her beloved. She pleads, "Oh plunge me deep in love." The speaker desires to exist so close to her beloved that she has no need to hear or see. His love and affection will be her only awareness and guide. She begs that all her sense awareness become "swept by the tempest of your love." Again, the speaker returns to the candle metaphor. She wishes to be so completely subsumed in him that she becomes a "taper in a rushing wind." No longer is there a separation between the two lovers.

Transcending the Tired, the Obnoxious, the Clichéd

Artists eventually all come to ancient truth that there is nothing new under the sun. At the point in the artists' career, they must find expression that is at least not or less hackneyed than previous works engaging the same issue or topic. A young artist may think he is original when he engages a certain issue, only later to learn that many artists preceding have engaged it many times. What's an artist or poet to do to remain original? One way is to contradict the cliché then elaborate on it in original heartfelt ways. This conundrum seems to have been dealt with by the speaker of Teasdale's poem, "I Am Not Yours."

The theme of this love lyric is a common one for lovers; pop lyrics use it over-abundantly. The idea of becoming so consumed by love that one wishes to melt into one's lover has long been a cliché; the serious artist who employs this theme works to dramatize it in fresh, original ways.

A poem fresh and new is achieved by Teasdale's speaker in her opening remarks, "I am not yours, not lost in you" and her use of light as the substance to which she compares her desired union with her beloved. She avoids all of the tired and obnoxious sexual connotations that usually appear in portrayals of this theme. This lyric's elocution remains so elevated that it could be interpreted as a devotee's prayer to the Divine.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes