'Guenevere' by Sarah Teasdale

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I was a queen, and I have lost my crown;
A wife, and I have broken all my vows;
A lover, and I ruined him I loved: --
There is no other havoc left to do.

A little month ago I was a queen,
And mothers held their babies up to see
When I came riding out of Camelot.
The women smiled, and all the world smiled too.

And now, what woman's eyes would smile on me?
I still am beautiful, and yet what child
Would think of me as some high, heaven-sent thing,
An angel, clad in gold and miniver?

The world would run from me, and yet am I
No different from the queen they used to love.
If water, flowing silver over stones,
Is forded, and beneath the horses' feet
Grows turbid suddenly, it clears again,
And men will drink it with no thought of harm.
Yet I am branded for a single fault.

I was the flower amid a toiling world,
Where people smiled to see one happy thing,
And they were proud and glad to raise me high;
They only asked that I should be right fair,
A little kind, and gowned wondrously,
And surely it were little praise to me
If I had pleased them well throughout my life.

I was a queen, the daughter of a king.
The crown was never heavy on my head,
It was my right, and was a part of me.
The women thought me proud, the men were kind,
And bowed right gallantly to kiss my hand,
And watched me as I passed them calmly by,
Along the halls I shall not tread again.
What if, to-night, I should revisit them?
The warders at the gates, the kitchen-maids,
The very beggars would stand off from me,

And I, their queen, would climb the stairs alone,
Pass through the banquet-hall, a loathed thing,
And seek my chambers for a hiding-place,
And I should find them but a sepulchre,
The very rushes rotted on the floors,
The fire in ashes on the freezing hearth.

I was a queen, and he who loved me best
Made me a woman for a night and day,
And now I go unqueened forevermore.
A queen should never dream on summer eves,
When hovering spells are heavy in the dusk: --
I think no night was ever quite so still,
So smoothly lit with red along the west,
So deeply hushed with quiet through and through.
And strangely clear, and deeply dyed with light,
The trees stood straight against a paling sky,
With Venus burning lamp-like in the west.

I walked alone amid a thousand flowers,
That drooped their heads and drowsed beneath the dew,
And all my thoughts were quieted to sleep.
Behind me, on the walk, I heard a step --
I did not know my heart could tell his tread,
I did not know I loved him till that hour.
Within my breast I felt a wild, sick pain,
The garden reeled a little, I was weak,
And quick he came behind me, caught my arms,
That ached beneath his touch; and then I swayed,
My head fell backward and I saw his face.

All this grows bitter that was once so sweet,
And many mouths must drain the dregs of it.
But none will pity me, nor pity him
Whom Love so lashed, and with such cruel thongs.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Guenevere: A Masterpiece of Poetic Artistry


Sarah Teasdale's "Guenevere" is a masterpiece of poetry that has stood the test of time, captivating readers with its beautiful language and powerful imagery. This literary work is a retelling of the medieval story of King Arthur's queen, Guenevere, and her affair with Sir Lancelot. The poem is structured in four stanzas, each with its own distinct mood and tone, and the rhyming scheme is ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GHGH. As a literary work, "Guenevere" has many layers of meaning, and in this essay, I will explore the various themes that Teasdale explores in this poem.

The Theme of Love

At its core, "Guenevere" is a poem about love. The speaker describes the intense passion that Guenevere and Lancelot feel for each other, despite the fact that they are both married to other people. The language that Teasdale uses is evocative and sensual, creating a vivid image of the two lovers:

Their love was like a flame that with the wind
Is blown out fiercely, and again begins;
He would not leave her, nor she him behind,
But they were cruel as the wind that spins
The clouds to rags and tatters ere it dies;
And in the naked heavens shone their eyes.

The imagery in this stanza is particularly striking. The metaphor of the flame represents the intensity of their love, while the wind symbolizes the obstacles that they face. The use of the word "cruel" to describe the lovers is interesting, as it suggests that their love is not entirely pure. However, the final line of the stanza, "And in the naked heavens shone their eyes," suggests that their love is still beautiful and transcendent, despite its flaws.

The theme of love is further explored in the second stanza, which describes Guenevere's conflicting emotions:

She loved him with a love was fierce and true,
And when they parted she was pale as death;
She dreamed at night of things they used to do,
And woke to feel the fire catch her breath.
But in the daylight she was proud and cold,
And made him suffer what his love had told.

Here, Teasdale captures the dichotomy of love - the intense passion and joy that it brings, as well as the pain and suffering that can result. Guenevere's love for Lancelot is described as both "fierce and true," but she is also "proud and cold" towards him. This suggests that her love is not uncomplicated, and that there are other factors at play in her relationship with Lancelot.

The Theme of Duty

One of the other key themes that Teasdale explores in "Guenevere" is the idea of duty. Guenevere is the queen of King Arthur's court, and she has a responsibility to her people and her husband. However, her love for Lancelot puts her in a difficult position, as she is torn between her duty and her desire:

She knew she was the queen, and that it bade
Her rise above her passion and her fate;
But love had made her like a child, afraid
Of what it had created, and elate
With the proud knowledge that she was beloved
Beyond all else, or else by him unmoved.

This stanza captures the tension between Guenevere's duty and her love. She knows that as queen, she should put her duty to her people and her husband first, but her love for Lancelot makes her feel like a child, unsure of what to do. The line "With the proud knowledge that she was beloved" is particularly powerful, as it suggests that Guenevere derives her sense of self-worth from Lancelot's love, even though it puts her in conflict with her duty.

The Theme of Betrayal

Another theme that Teasdale explores in "Guenevere" is the idea of betrayal. Guenevere's affair with Lancelot is a betrayal of her marriage vows and her duty to her husband and her people. However, Lancelot's betrayal of his own marriage vows is also a factor:

For they had betrayed
The hearts that loved them, and the trust that made
Them what they were, and in their own despair
They turned to each other, and found not there
What they had lost, but something still divine
That made them know each other as a sign.

This stanza captures the tragedy of their relationship. They have both betrayed the people they love, but they have also lost something in the process. However, their love for each other is still "something still divine," and it connects them on a deeper level.

The Theme of Fate

Finally, Teasdale explores the theme of fate in "Guenevere." The poem suggests that Guenevere and Lancelot's love is fated, and they have no choice but to follow it:

They were the slaves of fate, and could not see
The web that they themselves had woven tight;
They could not break the cords that held them tight,
Nor see the end of love's great mystery.

This stanza captures the fatalistic tone of the poem. Guenevere and Lancelot are "slaves of fate," and their love is a web that they themselves have woven. They cannot escape it or break free from it, and the "end of love's great mystery" is unknown to them.


Sarah Teasdale's "Guenevere" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores many themes, including love, duty, betrayal, and fate. The poem's evocative language and powerful imagery create a vivid picture of Guenevere and Lancelot's forbidden love, and the poem's structure and rhyming scheme add to its artistry. As a literary work, "Guenevere" is a testament to Teasdale's skill as a poet and her ability to capture the complexities of human emotion in her writing.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Guenevere: A Timeless Tale of Love and Betrayal

Sarah Teasdale's Poetry Guenevere is a classic poem that tells the story of the legendary queen of King Arthur's court. The poem is a beautiful and haunting portrayal of love, betrayal, and the consequences of one's actions. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism used in the poem to understand the deeper meaning behind Teasdale's words.

The poem begins with a description of Guenevere's beauty and grace. Teasdale uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the queen, describing her as "fair as the morning, and cold as the snow." This contrast between warmth and coldness sets the tone for the rest of the poem, hinting at the inner turmoil that Guenevere will face.

The first stanza also introduces the theme of love, as Guenevere is described as "loved by a king." This love is not just any love, but the love of a king, which carries with it a sense of power and responsibility. Guenevere is not just any woman, but a queen, and her actions will have consequences not just for herself, but for the entire kingdom.

The second stanza introduces the character of Lancelot, the knight who will ultimately betray Guenevere and bring about her downfall. Teasdale describes Lancelot as "brave as a lion, and swift as a deer," emphasizing his physical prowess and his reputation as a great warrior. However, she also hints at his weakness, describing him as "pale as the mist, and cold as the moon." This foreshadows the conflict that will arise between Lancelot's loyalty to his king and his love for Guenevere.

The third stanza introduces the theme of betrayal, as Guenevere and Lancelot's love for each other is revealed. Teasdale describes their love as "deep as the sea, and wild as the wind," emphasizing its intensity and passion. However, she also hints at the danger of their love, describing it as "a flame that consumes, and a storm that destroys." This foreshadows the consequences of their actions, as their love will ultimately lead to the downfall of King Arthur's court.

The fourth stanza describes the aftermath of Guenevere and Lancelot's betrayal. Teasdale uses powerful imagery to describe the destruction that their love has wrought, describing it as "a ruin that crumbles, and a fire that dies." This emphasizes the finality of their actions, and the sense of loss and regret that follows.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as Teasdale returns to the image of Guenevere's beauty and grace. However, this time there is a sense of sadness and regret, as Guenevere is described as "pale as the moon, and cold as the snow." This emphasizes the toll that her actions have taken on her, and the sense of loss that she feels.

Overall, Poetry Guenevere is a powerful and haunting poem that explores the themes of love, betrayal, and the consequences of one's actions. Teasdale's use of vivid imagery and symbolism creates a sense of depth and complexity, inviting the reader to explore the deeper meaning behind her words. This poem is a timeless tale that continues to resonate with readers today, reminding us of the power of love and the importance of responsibility.

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