Debt By Sara Teasdale: Reading and Meditation

March 21, 2021  • Todd Breyfogle

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What do we owe others? The word “debt” comes from the Latin, debitus, which means to owed or due. “Owe” derives, through the Germanic, from an old Indo-European root shared with the Sanskrit īs, meaning “to own, possess”. The colloquialism “I own that” as an expression of acknowledging responsibility for one’s behavior is thus close to the etymological truth—we accept the obligation. What obligations do we have to others? Sara Teasdale’s poem revolves around two poles—love is freely given, and in its freedom cannot demand reciprocation; love freely given may be freely rejected. The space between the two is the realm of the unrequited. There are of course obligations in mutual love freely entered into. But Teasdale here prompts us to reflect on what we have received, even when we reject love or when our love is rejected. What are the spirit wings? What gives a heart a song? Where do we find the little open gate that opens heaven’s wall? What gratitude do we owe others who have wounded us, and whom we have wounded? What do we own in ourselves in how we have loved and not loved?

Todd Breyfogle

Denver, Colorado