Saturday, September 18, 2010

A few more words on May Sarton

The poems of I quoted yesterday were written when May Sarton was about my age, 74. She lived to 83. Her last volume of verse, published in 1995, the year before she died, is called Coming Into Eighty.

I read them as if they are notes from the future.

The poems were mostly written in the dark hours of the night, forming themselves in the poet's head, written down in daylight. They are as slight as slips of paper, but weighty in their simplicity. They are, all of them, about death, even the one's that make no mention of that inevitable hour -- the deaths of friends, the increasing alienation of her own body, the pain. "These days/ Everything is an effort," she writes.

Melancholy? Yes. The poems are drenched in melancholy, the tidal waves of memories that come unbidden, overwhelming. The past closes in on the present, squeezing it down to a few essentials -- her cat, the birds at the feeder, the moon with Venus, a fall of snow. Call it, if you will, sanctifying grace. "That gift beyond our will,/ Makes earth a holy place."

She turns to the window, catches in her dazzled eye a scarlet tanager in the cherry tree:
I have travelled so far
Through time
To arrive at this moment
Awestruck.