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Tag Archives: May Sarton

Poetry for an elegiac season

fall-benches

Autumn in New England, of course, is spectacular, but it also brings a sense of loss and drawing in, as days shorten, we finally turn the heat on, and batten down the house for winter. We resurrect our jackets, gloves and flannel sheets. The garden slowly dies.

Here is one of my favorite poems about fall, bittersweet like the season. I chose this for my mother’s memorial service program in June; she liked the poem.  Our mutual love of poetry (and reading) was one of our strongest bonds.

from “Autumn Sonnets” by May Sarton

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go.

Solitude, society and writing

books,time photo
Recently I reread May Sarton’s wonderful JOURNAL OF A SOLITUDE. I have a cheap old paperback of this book but I treasure it since Ms. Sarton signed it for me. Many years ago (early 1980s) I went to hear her read poetry in Boston and waited in line to get this signature, feeling very starstruck. I’ve lived alone for about 90 percent of my adult life, and I’m good at it. People who don’t like too much alone time tend to assume that solitary = lonely, but that’s not true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m gregarious and sociable to a degree. I love my friends and family, but I also love living by myself for many reasons, not least of which is peaceful time to read and write. Many writers say that their ideas come to them in moments away from the clash (and flash and beep) of modern life. Some words from Sarton:

I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose–to find out what I think, to know where I stand. ..I hardly ever sit still without being haunted by the “undone” and the “unsent.” ..it is the effort of pushing away the lives and needs of others before I can come to the work with any freshness and zest.

…the poem is primarily a dialogue with the self and the novel a dialogue with others. They come from entirely different modes of being. I suppose I have written novels to find out what I thought about something and poems to find out what I felt about something.

Writers may not always need a “room of one’s own”, as Virginia Woolf famously described what women should have. But we do need to carve out a measure of solitude to take in others’ writing, to make room for ideas to come, and to do our own writing.