I love the snarkiness of Sara Teasdale’s I Shall Not Care. I think the brilliance of the verse comes from its construction—it is not until the final two lines that we learn what the poem is really about, requiring us to reevaluate the rest of the poem in light of this new information. For example, the line “I shall not care” transforms from a simple statement of truth into a lover’s ultimate revenge.
The music shares a similar construction. The opening section musically emphasizes the initial, naïve interpretation of a grieving beloved left behind by his lover now resting in peace. This section is first sung by the upper voices to represent the point-of-view of this poem, then with the full chorus repeating this text, thus delaying the “stinger” until the last moment. The music suddenly changes to reflect anger and frustration through a highly chromatic chordal progression, finally revealing the feelings motivating the entire piece.
I purposely deviate from Teasdale’s plan by adding a coda, giving the listener time to process this new information, simulating the process whereby a reader might simply re-read the entire poem in this new context. By reusing the opening line, “when I am dead”, I take the listener back to the start of the poem, but with the harmony now reflecting this newly-discovered ambivalence of the poet.
I Shall Not Care
When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Though you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.
I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough;
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.