American Author, Poet, Novelist and Memoirist
May Sarton, pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton
American Author, Poet, Novelist and Memoirist
Rilke… is like a dense forest into which one disappears, penetrating slowly and often in the dark, but always with a sense of awe and imminent discovery. There are few writers whom one must in some way become before reading. I think he is one and so reading him is more than reading; it can become the most absorbing part of one’s life for a time. I am so grateful that he was there this year — just this year and no other where the spirit is towered over by the world horror, where it seems like a blade of grass pushing through a pavement (not less miraculous).
I find my position as a poet today a curious one… For a long time I have maintained that the poet’s affair was the individual human soul, the story of it in one man, in my case the transforming of personal emotions into written events. Now it has become impossible to guard one’s soul — death to do it — we are forced to read the papers, and yet I still believe that our job is somehow or other to be above the mêlée, or so deeply in it that one comes through to something else, something universal and timeless.
Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.
For a long time now, every meeting with another human being has been a collision. I feel too much, sense too much, am exhausted by the reverberations after even the simplest conversation. But the deep collision is and has been with my unregenerate, tormenting, and tormented self. I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose ? to find out what I think, to know where I stand.
I can hardly believe that relief from the anguish of these past months is here to stay, but so far it does feel like a true change of mood ? or rather, a change of being where I can stand alone.
It is raining. I look out on the maple, where a few leaves have turned yellow, and listen to Punch, the parrot, talking to himself and to the rain ticking gently against the windows. I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my ?real? life again at last. That is what is strange?that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone?
My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence if I cannot find support there. I go up to Heaven and down to Hell in an hour, and keep alive only by imposing upon myself inexorable routines.
So much of my life here is precarious. I cannot always believe even in my work. But I have come in these last days to feel again the validity of my struggle here, that it is meaningful whether I ever ?succeed? as a writer or not, and that even its failures, failures of nerve, failures due to a difficult temperament, can be meaningful. It is an age where more and more human beings are caught up in lives where fewer and fewer inward decisions can be made, where fewer and fewer real choices exist. The fact that a middle-aged, single woman, without any vestige of family left, lives in this house in a silent village and is responsible only to her own soul means something. The fact that she is a writer and can tell where she is and what it is like on the pilgrimage inward can be of comfort. It is comforting to know there are lighthouse keepers on rocky islands along the coast. Sometimes, when I have been for a walk after dark and see my house lighted up, looking so alive, I feel that my presence here is worth all the Hell.
The reasons for depression are not so interesting as the way one handles it, simply to stay alive.
The value of solitude ? one of its values ? is, of course, that there is nothing to cushion against attacks from within, just as there is nothing to help balance at times of particular stress or depression. A few moments of desultory conversation ? may calm an inner storm. But the storm, painful as it is, might have had some truth in it. So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.
A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless.
Why is it that people who cannot show feeling presume that that is a strength and not a weakness?
We only keep what we lose.
We are never done with thinking about our parents, I suppose, and come to know them better long after they are dead than we ever did when they were alive.
To be desperate is to discover strength. We die of comfort and by conflict live.
People who cannot feel punish those who do.
I suppose real old age begins when one looks backward rather than forward.
Human relations just are not fixed in their orbits like the planets - they're more like galaxies, changing all the time, exploding into light for years, then dying away.
Absence becomes the greatest Presence.
The poet must be free to love or hate as the spirit moves him, free to change, free to be a chameleon, free to be an enfant terrible. He must above all never worry about his effect on other people. Power requires that one do just that all the time. Power requires that the inner person never be unmasked. No, we poets have to go naked. And since this is so, it is better that we stay private people; a naked public person would be rather ridiculous, what?
I would like to believe when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows seed every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not loss, it is adding to future life. It is the tree's way of being. Strongly rooted perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind.
I have never written a book that was not born out of a question I needed to answer for myself.
I can cast out the wrong idea of fidelity and understand that in the end one cannot be faithful in the true life-giving sense if it means being unfaithful to oneself.
Did someone say that there would be an end,
An end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning?
What has once been so interwoven cannot be raveled,
nor the gift ungiven.
Now the dead move through all of us still glowing....
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen, and feel new-cherished, new-forgiven,
As the lost human voices speak through us
and blend our complex love,
Our mourning without end.