In Time Like Air: Poems

In Time Like Air: Poems

by May Sarton

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Overview

Finalist for the National Book Award: May Sarton at her evocative and contemplative best
The title poem of this entrancing collection compares love to salt for its ability both to dissolve and to crystallize “into a presence.” At once philosophical and fiercely corporeal, this work presents emotion as a sensory experience. Written with Sarton’s characteristic concision, these deeply felt poems will delight readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480474338
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 03/25/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 80
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

May Sarton (1912–1995) was born on May 3 in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. Her novels A Shower of Summer DaysThe Birth of a Grandfather, and Faithful Are the Wounds, as well as her poetry collection In Time Like Air, all received nominations for the National Book Award.

An accomplished memoirist, Sarton came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) was an account of her experiences as a female artist. Sarton spent her later years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. In her memoir Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992), she shares her own personal thoughts on getting older. Her final poetry collection, Coming into Eighty, was published in 1994. Sarton died on July 16, 1995, in York, Maine.

May Sarton (1912–1995) was born on May 3 in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. Her novels A Shower of Summer Days, The Birth of a Grandfather, and Faithful Are the Wounds, as well as her poetry collection In Time Like Air, all received nominations for the National Book Award.

An accomplished memoirist, Sarton came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) was an account of her experiences as a female artist. Sarton spent her later years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. In her last memoir, Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992), she shares her own personal thoughts on getting older. Her final poetry collection, Coming into Eighty, was published in 1994. Sarton died on July 16, 1995, in York, Maine.

Read an Excerpt

In Time Like Air

Poems


By May Sarton

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1958 May Sarton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7433-8



CHAPTER 1

    ISLANDS AND WELLS

    In the private hour of night,
    There are islands of light:
    There is one, there is one
    Ill in a great bed alone
    Who without moving, moves
    Like a delicate wind of caring
    Over the earth, showering her loves
    As a tree the leaves it has shed,
    As a ship, world-faring,
    Though anchored fast in her island-bed.

    In the dry hour of the heart,
    There are still wells in the desert:
    There is one, there is one
    To whom I once came down
    From terrible Los Alamos of the bomb.
    She opened wide the door.
    She made me loving welcome,
    And as we watched the setting sun, she spoke
    Of suffering Europe, Asia. The world was near.
    O human eyes! O deep imploring look!

    In the dark night of the sense
    When God is only felt as absence,
    Prevenient grace is there
    To tell us to endure
    Since islands of pure light,
    Since desert wells exist.
    However dark our private night,
    However far from Him and how unsure,
    There still is human love, moments of trust
    That make us suddenly rich, however poor.


    DIALOGUE

    The teacher of logic said, "Reason."

    The poet said, "Passion."

    "Without logic, we muddle
    And fail," said the teacher
    Of reason.

    The poet said, "Fiddle!
    What about Nature?"

    "Has Nature no plan,
    You poor fuddled creature?
    You're a rational man,
    Not an ape or an angel."

    The poet said, "Nonsense!
    I'm an angel, an ape,
    And a creature of sense,
    Not a brain in a box
    That a mere jackanapes
    With logic unlocks.
    I'm total. I'm human.
    It's you who are not."

    "You sound like a woman."

    The poet said, "Rot!
    You're just a machine.
    You can't write a poem.
    You can't make a dream."

    But the logical man
    Said, "I'll stick to my reason."

    (He said it with passion).


    THE FURIES

    One is large and lazy;
    One is old and crazy;
    One is young and witty;
    One is a great beauty,
    But all feed you the wind,
    And each of them is blind.

    How then to recognize
    The hard unseeing eyes,
    Or woman tell from ghost?
    Human each is, almost—
    That wild and glittering light—
    Almost, and yet not quite.

    Never look straight at one
    For then your self is gone.
    The empty eyes give back
    Your own most bitter lack,
    And what they have to tell
    Is your most secret Hell:

    The old, the sad pursuit
    Of the corrupting fruit,
    The slightly tainted dish
    Of the subconscious wish,
    Fame, love, or merely pride
    Exacerbate, provide.

    Wrap you in glamour cold,
    Warm you with fairy gold,
    Till you grow fond and lazy,
    Witty, perverse, and crazy,
    And drink their health in wind,
    And call the Furies kind.


    THE ACTION OF THE BEAUTIFUL

    I move through my world like a stranger
    Where multiple images collide and fall,
    Fragments of lakes, eyes—or a mirror.
    How to include, make peace with them all?

    Only your face (is this too illusion?)
    So poised between silence and speech
    Suggests that at the center of confusion
    An inward music is just within reach.

    Can so much be spoken by an eyelid,
    Or the bent forehead so much light distill?
    Here all is secret and yet nothing hid,
    That tenderness, those deep reserves of will.

    There is no future, past, only pure presence.
    The moment of a glance is brimmed so full
    It fuses consciousness to a new balance—
    This is the action of the beautiful.

    Lakes, mirrors, every broken radiance
    Shine whole again in your reflective face,
    And I, the stranger, centered in your presence,
    Come home and walk into the heart of peace.


    ON BEING GIVEN TIME

    Sometimes it seems to be the inmost land
    All children still inhabit when alone.
    They play the game of morning without end,
    And only lunch can bring them, startled, home
    Bearing in triumph a small speckled stone.

    Yet even for them, too much dispersal scatters;
    What complex form the simplest game may hold!
    And all we know of time that really matters
    We've learned from moving clouds and waters
    Where we see form and motion lightly meld.

    Not the fixed rigid object, clock or mind,
    But the long ripple that opens out beyond
    The duck as he swims down the tranquil pond,
    Or when a wandering, falling leaf may find
    And follow the formal downpath of the wind.

    It is, perhaps, our most complex creation,
    A lovely skill we spend a lifetime learning,
    Something between the world of pure sensation
    And the world of pure thought, a new relation,
    As if we held in balance the globe turning.

    Even a year's not long, yet moments are.
    This moment, yours and mine, and always given,
    When the leaf falls, the ripple opens far,
    And we go where all animals and children are,
    The world is open. Love can breathe again.


    THE METAPHYSICAL GARDEN

    I


    It was late in September when you took me
    To that amazing garden, hidden in the city,
    Tranquil and complicated as an open hand,
    There among green pleasances and descant of fountains,
    Through walled paths and dappled loggias
    Opening to distant trees,
    We went conversing, smoking, often silent,
    Our feet cool in sandals, nonchalant as the air.

    It was at the end of September, warm for the season.
    Nothing had fallen yet to bruise the grass.
    Ripeness was all suspended,
    The air aromatic and fresh over sun-drenched box.

    Critical as Chinese philosophers,
    We performed the garden by easy stages:
    Should we move toward shade or toward sunlight,
    The closed dark pool or the panoplied fountain?
    Clearly each path had a metaphysical meaning,
    Those rustic steps, that marble balustrade.
    It was late in September when time,
    Time that is not ours,
    Hid itself away.


    II

    Our first arrival was a square room,
    Brilliant parquet of clover
    Designed as a stage for the trees
    And their subtle conversations,
    Diapason of faintly stirring leaves;
    The fountains, heard not seen,
    Made silence crepitant and watery.
    And here it seemed we were part of a discourse
    On the ancient themes,
    Perspective and enclosure,
    Desire raised and fulfilled
    To this complex alive composure.
    It was there that your voice,
    Harsh and aloof,
    Mixed with the cry of a bird
    As a cardinal flashed through the willow
    And suddenly screamed.


    III

    We climbed lightly
    Through a small steep orchard
    To a bastion of branches.
    Must we penetrate, force passage
    At the top of the hill?
    No airy place, no view?

    What we found was a grave high room,
    Lonely, enclosed in acacias,
    Its center a double pool
    Where ivy crept and crowded
    And water lilies slept, going to seed.
    We had not after all expected
    A place so perfectly round.
    We sat on a stone bench like statues.
    Nothing moved.

    Nothing moved for a long season.
    From high in the sunlight then
    A single leaf fell slowly,
    And we watched it fall.
    So passionate was the place, so still,
    This light leaf falling from air to grass
    Was monumental. It held
    The exact weight of a tremendous word.


    IV

    How gentle and relieving
    Then to emerge, climb down
    From that intense enclosure
    High on the hill
    To the large view we had imagined
    Through all the devious paths,
    The orchards, loggias,
    The long boxed-in perspectives.

    Now it was here,
    The weight of the trees flung back,
    The undulating ample slopes,
    The whole shape of the land
    Made clear in the golden light.
    In the foreground tawny dogwood
    Thick with vermilion berries, showed
    Brilliantly sharp.
    We could read each leaf.

    We had to climb down
    To get to contemplation
    On this scale, large, airy, remote.
    We sat on a homely wooden bench
    And watched a solitary gardener pass
    With his pruning hook.
    Indeed it was coming home
    To an unbroken sunlit peace of knowing.


    LADY WITH A FALCON

    Flemish tapestry, 15th century

    Gentleness and starvation tame
    The falcon to this lady's wrist,
    Natural flight hooded from blame
    By what ironic fate or twist?

    For now the hunched bird's contained flight
    Pounces upon her inward air,
    To plunder that mysterious night
    Of poems blooded as the hare.

    Heavy becomes the lady's hand,
    And heavy bends the gentle head
    Over her hunched and brooding bird
    Until it is she who seems hooded.

    Lady, your falcon is a peril,
    Is starved, is mastered, but not kind.
    The bird who sits your hand so gentle,
    The captured hunter hunts your mind.

    Better to starve the senseless wind
    Than wrist a falcon's stop and start:
    The bolt of flight you thought to bend
    Plummets into your inmost heart.


    WHERE DREAM BEGINS

    Strip off kindness,
    Strip off shelter,
    Stripped down, friendless,
    Nor pride, nor warm shoes,
    Nor any covering
    A cold man might use
    When there is no sun,
    When heart is gone.

    Without coat or cape,
    Shoestring or doorlatch,
    Or one cosy hope,
    Stripped of odds and ends,
    Even at last of love,
    Where the world ends,
    Go rich in poverty,
    Go rich in poetry.

    This nothingness
    Is plenitude,
    Honeycomb wilderness
    Where the wild hare runs,
    Wind in the torn seams,
    Where rise buried suns,
    Where darkness begins.
    Here dream begins.


    LAMENT FOR TOBY,     A FRENCH POODLE

    The great Toby is dead,
    Courteous and discreet,
    He of the noble head,
    Remote and tragic air,
    He of the trim black feet—
    He's gone. He is nowhere.

    Yet famous in New Hampshire
    As one who fought and killed—
    Dog-bane and dog-despair
    That prey that all resign,
    The terrible and quilled,
    Heraldic porcupine.

    He will become a legend,
    Black coat and royal nature,
    So wounded he was blind,
    As on a painted shield
    Some lost heroic creature
    Who fought and would not yield.

    If we were brave as he,
    Who'd ask to be wise?
    We shall remember Toby:
    When human courage fails,
    Be dogged in just cause
    As he before the quills.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from In Time Like Air by May Sarton. Copyright © 1958 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

Contents

Publisher's Note,
I,
Islands and Wells,
Dialogue,
The Furies,
The Action of the Beautiful,
On Being Given Time,
The Metaphysical Garden,
Lady with a Falcon,
Where Dream Begins,
Lament for Toby,
II,
Green Song,
The Return,
The Fall,
The Olive Grove,
Mediterranean,
At Muzot,
To the North,
After Four Years,
Somersault,
The Frog, That Naked Creature,
The Phoenix,
III,
In Time Like Air,
Nativity,
Annunciation,
Sun Boat,
Ceremony,
All Souls,
Lifting Stone,
IV,
Binding the Dragon,
Song,
The Fall,
The Other Place,
Definition,
Fore Thought,
A Pair of Hands,
My Father's Death,
The Light Years,
Spring Day,
By Moonlight,
Reflections in a Double Mirror,
Death and the Lovers,
Translations from the French,
Allusion to Poets - Odilon-Jean Périer,
Gifts - Francis Jammes,
This Peasant's Son - Francis Jammes,
Sonnet - Jean Cassou,
Life That Passes - Pierre Seghers,
The Voyages - Robert Sabatier,
About the Author,

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