Wednesday, April 10, 2013

the long silence of winter


by May Sarton

In the middle of the night,
My bedroom washed in moonlight
And outside
The faint hush-hushing
Of an ebbing tide,
I see Venus
Close to
The waning moon.
I hear the bubbling hoot
Of a playful owl.
Pierrot's purrs
Ripple under my hand,
And all this is bathed
In the scent of roses
By my bed
Where there are always
Books and flowers.
In the middle of the night
The bliss of being alive!

“If you are a writer or an artist, it is work that fulfills and makes you come into wholeness, and that goes on through a lifetime. Whatever the wounds that have to heal, the moment of creation assures that all is well, that one is still in tune with the universe, that the inner chaos can be probed and distilled into order and beauty.”

- May Sarton, in At Seventy: A Journal

It's a nice picture of bliss that Sarton paints in her poem, and I like to think that it exists as a possibility. Even if it was just that one night, captured in these words. 

And how important it is to keep coming back to the idea that it's the work that matters, the work that fulfills. It's an idea that you will find often if you have a penchant for reading the diaries and letters of writers and artists. I find it a great comfort to come across such lines. 

I read Sarton's Journal of a Solitude rather obsessively while writing the book, Calm Things. She gets the details of an ordinary life so perfectly. Although perhaps ordinary is not at all the correct word. She knows solitude, loneliness. She observes the light so well, flowers on a table, the feelings of connection and loss, the feeling of being cut off from a loved one - that disorientation. The following lines were posted by The Paris Review on Facebook yesterday. I suppose I could especially relate to them because of the dog walk. I suppose what I most like about her work is that she can write both about the bliss of being alive, and of a sad November woods, the long silence of winter. This is something that I've always been interested in - that balance between bliss and a forlorn anguish.

Yes, I am home again, and alone.
Today wrote letters, then took my dog
Out through the sad November woods.
The leaves have fallen while I was away,
The ground is golden, while above
The maples are stripped of all color.
The ornamental cherries, red when I left,
Have paled now to translucent yellow.

Yes, I am home again but home has changed.
And I within this cultivated space
That I have made my own, feel at a loss,
Disoriented. All the safe doors
Have come unlocked and too much light
Has flooded every room. Where can I go?
Not toward you three thousand miles away
Lost in your own rich life, given me
For an hour.
Read between the lines.
Then meet me in the silence if you can,
The long silence of winter when I shall
Make poems out of nothing, out of loss,
And at times hear your healing laughter.

—May Sarton, from “Letters from Maine"


  1. Such a lovely post. I like the last two lines of the top poem. So good and so much to meditate on.

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  3. Your blog sustains me. I've camped here all morning and feel calm and ready to face Monday. Thanks Shawna. (I read Journal of a Solitude several years ago and loved it. I also enjoyed Plant Dreaming Deep)


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