Thursday, September 5, 2013


Dutch Interior: Pieter de Hooch (1629–1682)

May Sarton

I recognize the quiet and the charm,
This safe enclosed room where a woman sews
And life is tempered, orderly, and calm.
Through the Dutch door, half-open, sunlight streams
And throws a pale square down on the red tiles.
The cosy black dog suns himself and dreams.
Even the bed is sheltered, it encloses,
A cupboard to keep people safe from harm,
Where copper glows with the warm flush of roses.
The atmosphere is all domestic, human,
Chaos subdued by the sheer power of need.
This is a room where I have lived as woman,
Lived too what the Dutch painter does not tell—
The wild skies overhead, dissolving, breaking,
And how that broken light is never still,
And how the roar of waves is always near,
What bitter tumult, treacherous and cold,
Attacks the solemn charm year after year!
It must be felt as peace won and maintained
Against those terrible antagonists—
How many from this quiet room have drowned?
How many left to go, drunk on the wind,
And take their ships into heartbreaking seas;
How many whom no woman's peace could bind?
Bent to her sewing, she looks drenched in calm.
Raw grief is disciplined to the fine thread.
But in her heart this woman is the storm;
Alive, deep in herself, holds wind and rain,
Remaking chaos into an intimate order
Where sometimes light flows through a windowpane.

I have long loved those paintings of Dutch interiors - those little glimpses into another life, another time. The symbolism in them, too. The quiet and calm.

In the Sarton poem, she gets at how appearances often deceive. The interior life remains hidden, mysterious. A reminder that we don't always have even a hint of inner disturbances, turmoil, chaos.

What I like about looking at interiors, real interiors or interiors in paintings, not just perfectly set up home magazine interiors, is that they're intimate, revealing. But that they also hold their secrets, and at times have an element of the holy.

I also like those little still lifes that we all have in our homes and that are part of the interior image. Ours are always changing, but this is the recent one, on the desk in our kitchen. I suppose I always imagined that I'd sit here and write letters or in my diary, but in truth, it's mainly where things get put. In this case, my small collection of stone bowls, all three, which we bought before we were married, so over 20 years ago. I still love to look at them, whether empty or full. They still soothe me.


  1. Mom died on Monday and I've been looking rather frantically for that perfect poem to recite at the funeral and Dutch Interior is just the one. In putting together a funeral time is always at a premium, but I needed a moment this morning and went to Calm Things. An unexpected gift and there have been many that I've been given since mom died.

    I have read all of May Sarton's journals, but her poems I have neglected.

    Thank you, so very much.


    1. Oh, Pat! I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. Deepest condolences. I'm glad that the poem is meaningful and glad that it was timely, too. Take good care of yourself.

  2. i too have only read her journals and loved them all.
    your interior rooms are just what i would hope...
    they speak of calm and peace and light and simplicity.
    the very things i treasure.
    sadness here for you pat. not even knowing you... but when it's your mom...
    well. the worst kind of hard.

    1. Thanks for the good words, Tammy. You're lovely.


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