Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Now I Become Myself" -- May Sarton and Transparency

Now I Become Myself

by May Sarton 

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

("Now I Become Myself" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993.)

May Sarton
May Sarton (pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton) was born in Belgium, in 1912, and emigrated with her parents to escape the threat of German occupation.  When May was only four years old, the Sarton family settled into Cambridge Massachusetts, with May being an only child.

Gifted with poetry, Sarton published several poems by the time she was 17. She graduated from Cambridge High and Latin School in 1929. She started theater lessons in her late teens, but continued writing poetry, eventually publishing her first collection in 1937 entitled Encounter in April. Her family being well-connected, Sarton was a regular visitor to Europe, where she met  Virginia Woolf and the Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen.

Her father taught at Harvard, and became well known for being the definitive scholar on the history of science. From George Sarton she learned that people who are rooted in their work are rooted in life. He believed that “we have only what we are and we only have what we give, but on condition that we give all.” A tall order to live up to, and indeed she did.

Her mother was a teacher. One of the lessons she learned from her mother was to be aware of what every living thing around her needed, whether it was her plants, her cat, or a friend--and her mother showed the costs of rigorous love. 

Over the course of her career, Sarton taught at several colleges and universities, including Harvard University, Bread Loaf, and Wellesley College.

May Sarton devoted her life to writing 50 books of poetry, novels, journals and children’s stories. Of her work she once said: “Luckily for me my work is an intense joy as well as a necessity for me. I believe in it, and even if I were not to publish another book, I would still do it because I would wish to—because it makes me feel fully alive.” And she hoped her writings would reach others who might be experiencing similar thoughts and feelings. 

Although at first overlooked by literary critics, in the later part of her career reviewers and feminist academics began to discover Sarton's work, lauding her as an important contemporary American author.

May Sarton's best and most enduring work probably lies in her journals and memoirs, particularly Plant Dreaming Deep (about her early years at Nelson, 1958-68), Journal of a Solitude (1972-1973, often considered her best), The House by the Sea (1974-1976), Recovering (1978-1979) and At Seventy (1982-1983). In these fragile, rambling and honest accounts of her solitary life, Sarton deals with such issues as ageing, isolation, solitude, friendship, love and relationships.

In 1945, while on vacation in Sante Fe, Sarton met Judy Matlack, a professor of English at Simmons College, who became her lover and companion of thirteen years. The couple separated after the death of Sarton's father, when Sarton moved to Nelson, New Hampshire. She later relocated to York, Maine, where she spent the last twenty years of her life.

She took a great personal risk with one of her best-known works, "Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing" (1965), in which she tells her readers that she is a lesbian.  This move did not diminish her popularity; later novels such as Kinds of Love (1970) scored well with the public. Sarton continued to build on her reputation as a memoirist with 1973's Journal of a Solitude, giving readers an inside look at her experiences as a female artist. The work earned accolades from critics and won her new fans.
Biographer George Bailin in May Sarton: Woman and Poet stated:
"Not only is May a poet,
not only does she write novels and journals,
but she holds herself up for all to see, large, clear.
She examines her thinking in the open,
so that one can see what a writer is,
what is being accomplished, why, how.
This artist reveals herself fully,
and outlines the spirit of the times as well."
Linda Barrett Osborne noted in the Washington Post Book World that
"in whatever May Sarton writes
one can hear the human heart
pulsing just below the surface."

Her Writing

(A) Structure of Time
May observed from her father that "we find our own self, not by pursuing one’s self, but rather by pursuing some project and learning through discipline and routine who one is and wants to be." May took this lesson into her life by structuring her days with routine and scheduling. She found a kind of sanctity in her use and structure of time.

(B) Transparency Breeds Liberation
Sarton wrote in order to find out what she was feeling, and in the process went so deeply and so transparently, that she tapped into the well of universal human experience. In so doing, her readers feel liberated, for May’s willingness and courage to describe her inner most thoughts free them from thinking "there is something not quite right about me." May teaches that nothing human is ever alien.

(C) Solitude
May spent most of her adult life living alone, most notably in New Hampshire and Maine, places where she found the solitude that she required to listen deeply to what was moving in her soul.
She recognized in herself that there were seasons to her soul, times when she would need to be alone, and even then know that the times of her aloneness would, in turn, drive her to need relatedness.

She said: 

"There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge
and to maintain balance within it a precarious business.
But I must not forget that,
for me, being with people or even with one beloved person
for any length of time without solitude is even worse.
I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces.
I must have time alone in which to mull over any encounter,
and to extract its juice, its essence,
to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it…."

Sarton's pilgrimage would be to travel inward and reflect on all that she found, the good and the not so desirable but real parts of herself. Robert Coles, the child psychologist/child faith development specialist would say that we are all indebted to May for her “willingness to give her specific fears and desires a chance to be of universal significance; to do that one must believe that private dilemmas are, if deeply examined, universal, and so if expressed have a human value beyond the private.”

 (D) Balance
May recognized the dichotomies of life. Serious needed to be balanced with joy. Indeed, joy and humor played an important part of her life. In a letter to a friend she described a night in France when she was kept awake all night by a loud and inexperienced nightingale
May found balance in the joy of gardening. Part of her daily routine was going out into the garden to cut flowers for her study. She inherited from her mother a love of flowers and nature; and so for her a house never stood alone; it always had the companion of a garden. Even those of us who never have found an addiction with the soil, know its hold upon others.
Sarton wrote:
"Making a garden is not a gentle hobby for the elderly,
to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire.
It is a grand passion.
It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so
he will have to accept that life is going to be radically changed."  

(E) "Demons"
Sarton struggled with her own demons. She was not apart from the dark side of life. May talked about wickedness as an absolute reality, that each of us battles within ourselves. May suffered from bouts of depression and self-doubt throughout her life, during which she questioned her talent and, on one occasion, almost gave up writing altogether.

She had a reputation for being at times disagreeable, even destructive with her anger. It could pull her down and alienate people from her. So, she wrote in search of sources of strength. 

Of her "demons," she observed:

"I have to forgive myself to keep on creating
and being what I can be.
If I dwell too much on my lacks,
I simply must become useless to myself and others.
That they (demons) are immense and terribly destructive I need not be told,
but I believe truly that God has forgiven me a long time ago
because he knows what he has laid upon me
and that to remain as transparent and vulnerable as I must
and to go on creating forever, is all that he can ask."

 (F) Living Well

Sarton spent her last years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. She valued her time alone, but also treasured her friendships, and enjoyed receiving visitors. In 1986, May suffered a stroke. In describing her difficult recuperation, she remarked to an interviewer that since her illness, her poems explore "where I am now, as a woman...who has really faced growing old for the first time."
She survived surgery to remove breast cancer. Eventually, May succombed to cancer on July 16,1995.

At her death, May Sarton had written 53 books: 19 novels, 17 books of poetry, 15 nonfiction works including her acclaimed journals, 2 children's books, a play, and some screenplays. She received eighteen honorary degrees, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Of her own end of life, she said:

"I have entered a new phase and am approaching my death.
If I can accept this, not as a struggle to keep going at my former pace
but as a time of meditation where I need ask nothing of myself,
will nothing except to live as well as possible as aware as possible,
 then I could feel I am preparing for a last great adventure as happily as I can."

May Sarton wished that upon her death a fund would be established from the residue of her estate to provide scholarships for poets and historians of science. (Her father was a historian of science at Harvard.) The Sarton Fund has been established and is held under the auspices of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which May Sarton was a member.

The Sarton Estate recorded May Sarton's memorial service, which may be ordered for a small sum that includes a donation to the fund.

To contact the Sarton Fund, write to: Sarton Fund, c/o The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Norton's Woods, 136 Irving St., Cambridge, MA 02138.

Parker Palmer and Reflection on "Now I Become Myself"

Parker J. Palmer is founder and senior partner of the national Center for Courage and Renewal, which oversees "Courag to Teach" and "Courage to Lead" programs for people in the serving professions, including education, medicine, ministry, law and philanthropy. For fifteen years, he served as Senior Associate of the American Association of Higher Education. He now serves as Senior Advisor to the Fetzer Institute.

A writer, traveling teacher and activist, Dr. Palmer focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. His work speaks to people in manhy walks of life, including public schools, college and universitites, religious institutions, corporations, foundations and grass-roots organizations.

Palmer reflects upon his experience with vocation:

"What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been. How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity—the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.

"I first learned about vocation growing up in the church. I value much about the religious tradition in which I was raised: its humility about its own convictions, its respect for the world's diversity, its concern for justice. But the idea of vocation I picked up in those circles created distortion until I grew strong enough to discard it. I mean the idea that vocation, or calling, comes from a voice external to ourselves, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet—someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach.

"That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be 'selfish' unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.

"Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice 'out there' calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice 'in here' calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God."

(Parker Palmer, "Now I Become Myself," Yes! Magazine, March 31 2001)

I can only say, "Amen, May Sarton. And, thanks from deep 'in here,' Parker Palmer." As I structure my time on my own "projects" and, in doing so, try to be transparent while living a grossly imperfect life, I find solitude and balance help me fight the demons within. I may only hope to complete my life having finished a tiny fraction of some decent existence. Yet, I, too, wish to stand still, find Time young, and stop the sun.

“Life and Wisdom of May Sarton”
Composed by Rev. Peg Boyle Morgan
April 24, 2005
West Seattle Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Read this Site:  Thanks for bio information.

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