Unless I learn to ask no help
From any other soul but mine,
To seek no strength in waving reeds
Nor shade beneath a straggling pine;
Unless I learn to look at Grief
Unshrinking from her tear-blind eyes,
And take from Pleasure fearlessly
Whatever gifts will make me wise -
Unless I learn these things on earth
Why was I ever given birth?
These are some hard lessons that Sara Teasdale seeks to learn. Independence, fearlessness, gratitude, bravery. All are on display here. This poem is about confronting all of the good and the bad that lives around us every day. Teasdale want to recognize the very heights of Grief and Pleasure, and to encounter them both "unshrinkingly" and "fearlessly." Taking Pleasure without fear or guilt is as hard as facing naked Grief without shrinking from it. Teasdale will not hide in the tall grass or shelter herself beneath shade, instead she will ask "no help from any other soul but mine." It's an intoxicating self-reliance and strength of will on display.
If I can't do these things, asks Teasdale, why was I even born? That's a good question, indeed. Are these "Lessons" necessary? Teasdale's narrator in this poem certainly craves these lessons, as she feels they will give her meaning and validate her existence. I'm not convinced those lessons are necessary, because I feel that the capacity to ask them is enough. Still, these questions are essentially the directed formation of the Self from within, and it speaks directly to each of our sense of ourselves as individual.