Coming into Eighty: Poems

Coming into Eighty: Poems

by May Sarton


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393316230
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/17/1997
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 72
Sales rank: 1,017,651
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

May Sarton (1912-1995) was an acclaimed poet, novelist, and memoirist.

Read an Excerpt

Coming Into Eighty


By May Sarton


Copyright © 1994 May Sarton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7431-4



    Coming into eighty
    I slow my ship down
    For a safe landing.
    It has been battered,
    One sail torn, the rudder
    Sometimes wobbly.
    We are hardly a glorious sight.
    It has been a long voyage
    Through time, travail and triumph,
    Eighty years
    Of learning what to be
    And how to become it.

    One day the ship will decompose
    and then what will become of me?
    Only a breath
    Gone into nothingness
    Or a spirit of air and fire
    Set free?
    Who knows?

    Greet us at landfall
    The old ship and me,
    But we can't stay anchored.
    Soon we must set sail
    On the last mysterious voyage
    Everybody takes
    Toward death.
    Without my ship there,
    Wish me well.


    For two years
    The great cat,
    Slept on.

    Then suddenly
    The other day
    What had lain dormant
    To a shower,
    A proliferation
    Of images.

    My Himalayan cat
    Sits on the terrace wall
    Back to the sea
    His blue eyes wide open

    Alive to every stir of a leaf
    Every wing in the air
    And I recognize him
    As a mage.

    After long silence
    An old poet
    Singing again,
    I am a mage myself
    Joy leaps to my throat.
    Glory be to God!


    I wanted poems to come
    Running and leaping —
    All they did was dream
    While I was sleeping.

    In the dreams I could leap
    and run
    Feeling no pain
    It was healing and resolution
    I was given my life again.


    I remember
    The cold
    And the somber
    O's of November
    No birdsong in the marsh
    Not even at dawn
    But only the crows
    Loud and harsh.

    Like the trees we are bare
    And the chill on the air
    Speaks of death.
    They are shooting the deer.
    In this time in this place
    Of the dying body
    It is dark now at four
    We are pulled down to earth.

    But the O's of November
    In all times and all places
    Bring the ancient rite,
    Bring the snows of December.
    In all the religions
    All over the earth
    The candles are lit
    For rebirth.


    Before going to bed
    After a fall of snow
    I look out on the field
    Shining there in the moonlight
    So calm, untouched and white
    Snow silence fills my head
    After I leave the window.

    Hours later near dawn
    When I look down again
    The whole landscape has changed
    The perfect surface gone
    Criss-crossed and written on
    Where the wild creatures ranged
    While the moon rose and shone.

    Why did my dog not bark?
    Why did I hear no sound
    There on the snow-locked ground
    In the tumultuous dark?

    How much can come, how much can go
    When the December moon is bright,
    What worlds of play we'll never know
    Sleeping away the cold white night
    After a fall of snow.


    As fresh, as always new
    As it has always been
    The first fall of snow
    Falls soft as in a dream
    To transform the sad brown
    Of late November
    Into a lavish scene,
    The ermine of December.

    And every year we wonder,
    Forlorn as we are,
    What sudden clap of thunder
    Or brilliance of a star
    Could stop us where we are,
    Could stir the roots to sense
    Out of the dark once more
    Rebirth of innocence.

    Will it be born again,
    Fresh as the first snowfall,
    That love without a stain?
    Who knows, who can tell?
    Yet for an interval
    Always the Christmas grace,
    That gift beyond our will,
    Makes earth a holy place.


    NEW YEAR 1990

    What memory keeps fresh, frames unspoken,
    I catch for you, innumerable friends.
    When so much else has been destroyed or broken
    These joys remain intact as the year ends,
    A year of earth-grief and of bitter news,
    The starving children and the burning trees,
    Otters coated in oil and dolphins drowned.
    Small joys keep life alive. I give you these.
    They will not die, you know. They stay around.

    When the long winter lingered on
    And all the color stayed an ugly brown,
    Suddenly snowdrops had pushed their way through
    And their sharp whiteness made all new.

    Early in February owls began to woo,
    Their language gentle, calling, "Who? Who? Who?"
    And I was lit up when an awesome bird
    In the harsh cold spoke such a tender word.

    The finches changed their suits early this year
    From olive to bright gold, and there they were
    Burbling as always, their busy flight a whir
    Of yellow weaving through static air.

    The daffodils in April thronged the grass
    And all along the wood's edge, fabulous
    To show the thousand faces of a nation,
    Expected, still beyond all expectation.

    Later in June, alive with silent fire,
    The fireflies pulsed their firefly desire
    And from the terrace I could watch the dance,
    Follow their bliss. It happened only once.

    Full summer brought nasturtiums in profusion
    I picked and bent to drink the sweet confusion,
    Yellow and orange, the fresh scent. I could
    Keep summer in a bowl for days, and did.

    One autumn night my cat ran to my call
    And leapt five feet over the terrace wall.
    A second, weightless, he flowed and did not fall
    That silver splendor, princely and casual.

    And last I give you murmur of waves breaking,
    The sound of sleep that is a kind of waking
    As the tide rises from the distant ocean
    And all is still and yet all in motion.

    The small joys last and even outlast earthquake.
    I give you these for love—and for hope's sake.


    The steamroller
    That crushes a butterfly
    In its path has not won
    Only destroyed something.

    Brute power
    Is not superior
    To a flower.


    Through the silences,
    The long empty days
    You have sat beside me
    Watching the finches feed,
    The tremor in the leaves.
    You have not left my mind.

    Friendship supplied the root—
    It was planted years ago—
    To bring me flowers and seed
    Through the long drought.

    Far-flung as you are
    You have seemed to sit beside me.
    You have not left my mind.

    Will you come in the new year?
    To share the wind in the leaves
    And the finches lacing the air
    To savor the silence with me?
    It's been a long time.


    Like two halves of an almond
    We were inseparable
    As children,
    Made up a language
    Called Oyghee
    Which gave us
    Our own space
    And shut out the world.

    Were lords
    Of a summer camp
    Where we entered a contest,
    Decorated our canoe
    As a Viking ship,
    But failed to win
    Because we laughed so much
    The canoe capsized.

    Grown up, we rarely met,
    Our lives were so different.
    When we did
    Oyghee was spoken at once.
    "How is theuta weonig?"
    Hard times, illness,
    Near despair,
    They all poured out.

    Your vision of life
    Was original.
    Never once did I hear you
    Utter the expected
    Or the usual.
    That fresh look
    At everything
    From the mundane
    To the excruciatingly private
    Cost a great deal.
    You could not rest in the ordinary,
    The evasive
    Or less than your own
    Authentic truth.
    Were you a genius
    Who did not discover her talent?

    Without writing letters
    We kept in touch.
    I knew I would call
    If you were dying.
    "Is that one dying?
    This one will come."

    We would talk Oyghee
    One last time.
    But no one told me,
    And now there is no ending,
    But wherever I am, you are.


    I used to think
    Pain was the great teacher
    But after two years
    Of trying to learn
    Its lessons
    I am hoping my teacher
    Will go away
    She bores me almost to death,
    She is so repetitive.

    The pain I meant
    Is the pain of separation
    The end of a love.
    That lesson is never learned
    And is never boring.
    Only a kind of
    Like a crow cawing
    In the depth of winter.
    Memory is merciless.


    There is a thin glass
    Between me and everything I see.
    The glass is pain.
    How to slide it away,
    Unblur my vision?

    "We must rinse the eye,"
    My old friend, the poet,
    Used to say.
    But that was in Belgium
    Many years ago.

    Raymond is dead
    And I am in exile,
    Old and ill.

    My eye turns inward
    To rest on three poplars
    And a lost garden.
    The delphinium is very blue.
    The columbine, purple and white,
    Trembles in the breeze
    And there are tall yellow daisies.

    "We must rinse the eye,"
    The poet reminds me
    While his wife calls out
    To the children to hurry.
    The garden must be watered
    Before dark,
    And we run for the pails.

    Nothing is blurred now,
    Everything is quite clear
    In the poignant evening light.
    An explosion of memory
    Has rinsed my eye.


    Veiling only a little
    The bright awe of his gift,
    An angel to the table
    Brings fresh bread and smooth milk.
    But the grave eyelids there
    Gently summon to prayer,
    The vision's inwardness:
    —Calm, calm, be calm!
    Learn the weight of the palm
    Supporting its largesse.

    Just as the tree is bent
    Under its heavy fruit,
    Just so is all assent,
    Leaning on its own weight;
    Lovely the slight vibration,
    The threading in slow motion
    As it divides the moment
    And learns to arbitrate
    Between earth's pulling weight
    And the vast firmament.

    Between the sun and shade,
    Wise as a sibyl's sleep,
    This judgment lightly made
    Still rests upon the deep.
    Patient, it never tires
    Of farewells or desires,
    But, centered, the palm stands.
    Oh, tender noble one
    Worthy to wait alone
    For the gods' fertile hands.

    The light gold is a murmur
    Fingered by simple air
    To weave a silken armor
    For desert soul to wear,
    Gives to the brittle wind
    Shot through with shifting sand
    A voice that's never done,
    Is its own oracle,
    A self-made miracle
    When grief sings on alone.

    And still itself unknowing
    Between sand and the sky
    While each day shines, is growing
    And makes a little honey.
    This sweetness of sensation
    Is timeless in duration
    Through days that hardly move,
    Uncounted hours of presence
    Secrete the living essence
    And the full weight of love.

    Sometimes severe endeavor
    Yields only that despair
    Of shadow and of languor
    In spite of many a tear.
    Yet do not then accuse
    The tree of avarice,
    Oh Gold, Authority!
    Gravely the rising sap
    And the eternal hope
    Grow to maturity.

    These seeming-empty hours,
    When the whole world is gone
    Send avid roots and powers
    Down through the desert, down
    Like myriad fine hairs
    The fruitful darkness bears;
    Working their way through sand
    To the entrails of earth
    Where sources come to birth
    That the high peaks demand.

    Patience, and patience,
    Patience across the blue.
    Each atom of your silence
    Ripens the fruit in you.
    The grave mercy is near,
    A dove, a breath of air,
    The gentlest feeling,
    There where a woman leans
    The light rain begins
    And you are kneeling.

    If now a people fall
    Powdered like dust to roll
    With the stars in the sky!
    You have not lost those hours
    So lightly bear your powers
    After the great outgoing;
    As does the thinking one
    Who spends his spirit on
    The gifts of his own growing.


Excerpted from Coming Into Eighty by May Sarton. Copyright © 1994 May Sarton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Publisher's Note,
Coming into Eighty,
I Wanted Poems to Come,
The O's of November,
December Moon,
As Fresh, As Always New,
Small Joys,
A Thought,
Friendship and Illness,
Best Friend,
The Teacher,
Rinsing the Eye,
After the Long Enduring,
The Artist,
All Souls 1991,
The Absence of God,
The Use of Force,
The Scream,
For My Mother,
Getting Dressed,
Friend or Enemy,
Wanting to Die,
The Tides,
Lunch in the Garden,
A Fortune,
To Have What I Have,
The Ender, The Beginner,
A Handful of Thyme,
Birthday Present,
About the Author,

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