Metamorphosis 

img_4901 Photo at Pixabay

After teaching

I am only beginning to know what I was taught
As a child about poetry, about life, about myself;
It takes a long time for words to become thought,
For thought, the slow burner, to burn through
Into life where it can scorch the palm of a hand,
When what was merely beautiful or strange
Suffers the metamorphosis, the blood-change,
Looks out of eyes or walks down the street,
All that was abstract become concrete,
Is part of you like an eyelash or your hair;
You say “Poetry” and mean you have been there.

You are just beginning to understand
What it is all about, the imaginary land,
Say, “I can’t possibly describe the weather.
It’s as if the sky burned, was all on fire,
Ecstasy that makes ash of bodily desire —
But all I have to show is a stone and a blue feather.”

My children, you with whom I have learned so much,
Do not turn back to these hours; go forward,
Look to the fertile days and years ahead
When all that meaning and its implication,
The full tone and the half-tone and the whisper
Will sound together and keep the mind awake,
As after hearing a difficult quartet
The theme comes clear and you listen again

Long after you had thought you heard;
So it is with the deep thought, the deep word.
Now we are able only to graph the flight;
For we never actually rose from the ground,
Imagine a moment when student and teacher
(Long after the day and the lesson are over)
Will soar together to the pure immortal air
And find Yeats, Hopkins, Eliot waiting there.

But you understand, it cannot happen yet.
It takes a long time to live what you learn:
I believe we shall meet again and show each other
These curious marvels, the stone and the blue feather;
And we shall meet again when your own children are
Taught what they will not know for many a year.

May Sarton
Collected Poems, 1930-1993

Long after you had thought you heard; / So it is with the deep thought, the deep word.

Yes. And here in cave-like depths of contemplative silence (all-beyond the initial verbosity) one catches momentary glimpses of invitation, like fireflies, eternally suspended in air: go forward, / look to the fertile days and years ahead.

In inwardness

The Work of Happiness

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

May Sarton
Collected Poems

Ah yes. In inwardness.

Christmas Light

img_0311
Photo at Pixabay

When everyone had gone
I sat in the library
With the small silent tree,
She and I alone.
How softly she shone!

And for the first time then
For the first time this year,
I felt reborn again,
I knew love’s presence near.

Love distant, love detached
And strangely without weight,
Was with me in the night
When everyone had gone
And the garland of pure light
Stayed on, stayed on.

May Sarton
Collected Poems 1930-1993
W W Norton, 1993

May Sarton died on the 16th July 1995 – but continues to speak to my soul, and sometimes for it, almost daily, though we never met. She could not have imagined this communication. I first encountered her writings around the time she died. But friendship thrives in many ways, and times, and inter-continental spaces – and the gift of shared experience by way of carefully penned words is, for me, among the greatest gifts of all.

At times I feel I can see May Sarton at work, gift and wisdom brought forth from both depth and shallows, from indulgence and sacrifice, from being understood and misunderstood, from great joys, and searing pain. And experience the lamplight, and the desktop flowers in her study, and share the experience of love known in the quiet, golden light of Christmas contemplation, in the company of a blessing-enriched pine tree.

Possession

There is a slight lifting of the air so I can smell the earth for the first time, and yesterday I again took possession of my life here

May Sarton
Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year

May Sarton, cheerful, reflective, and just back in the US from a happy trip to London, smelled the earth and again took possession of her life there. The very next day she was afflicted by an old trouble, that of believing her life was a chaos!

The affliction is probably chief reason so many love her journals: just like them! – or me.

I want to abide for a moment with the notion of the earth’s scent, and repeatedly taking ‘possession of my life here’. It’s not a once and for all thing. ‘Chaos’ in its many forms is part and parcel of everyone’s life. Great potential rests in our ability, contemplatively and daily, to sense ‘slight lifting of the air’ and come to our senses again, and then again, and again.

Family and friends, and sometimes that quiet old friend the journal, help us to do that.

The seed of creation

It is only when we can believe that we are creating the soul that life has any meaning, but when we can believe it – and I do and always have – then there is nothing we do that is without meaning and nothing that we suffer that does not hold the seed of creation in it.

May Sarton
From May Sarton’s Well, page 128

I never met the late American poet May Sarton in person, though there is a sense in which I’ve met something of her soul. I like to think I’ll recognise her quite readily when we’re all fully gathered into Oneness. Meanwhile, as with so very much wisdom to be celebrated and gleaned from our fellows and soul-friends, I regularly revel in her reflections.

Live in the changing light

I always forget how important the empty days are, how
important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce
anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one
has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged
damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable
thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let
it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.

May Sarton
Journal of a Solitude

I’ve lived quietly in the “changing light of a room” today and am deeply glad not to have been troubled by the suggestion that it was a “damaged damaging day, a sinful day”. Not for the first time, I’m grateful that May Sarton – one of my favourite contemplative poets – kept her journal for so many years. The lived experience and voiced learning of others is so often such a great help to what “one can do for the pysche”.

Elements of belonging

Last evening I got lost in a reverie with David Whyte’s poem Working Together: master teacher of the arts of evocation and of invocation, his poems “haunt” me, hovering in and around me, in much the same way Mary Oliver’s do, or May Sarton’s, or William Stafford’s. Poets who become our favourites do so, I guess, because something of their form, heart, precision and soul takes up residency somewhere deep, deep, deep within us.

… may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine

David Whyte
from Working Together
The House of Belonging

Though I knew of the late John O’Donohue’s sublime works (Anam Cara – soul friend; Divine Beauty etc) before I discovered David Whyte, I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised when I learned that the two were the closest of friends. Each, consciously or unconsciously, writes blessing. The poetic voice of each – the sound, the timbre, the vibration – are heard once, never to be forgotten … may we, in this life / trust …

Some lovely video footage of John, writing at home, comfortably seated beside an Irish peat fire, has left me with a burning desire some day to visit The Burren [YouTube], perhaps to encounter the soul of the great man in the vast and ancient open spaces there, and maybe, by some miracle, to bump into his old friend David Whyte who, I like to imagine, still walks and remembers there from time to time … to those elements / we have yet to see …

But the actual going there, to The Burren, will not, I think, be necessary, even if someday achieved and delighted in. For the poetry of life has already done its work, and friendships I delight in – some of whom I’ve set eyes on, and some of whom I haven’t, have already been shown to be gifts and graces of that ultimate Oneness for which we instinctively reach. All that’s necessary each day is for me to meditate, remember or imagine.