An illuminated transience



For Monet

Poets, too, are crazed by light,
How to capture its changes,
How to be accurate in seizing
What has been caught by the eye
In an instant’s flash –
Light through a petal,
Iridescence of clouds before sunrise.
They, too, are haunted by the need
To hold the fleeting still
In a design –
That vermilion under the haystack,
Struck at sunset,
Melting into the golden air
Yet perfectly defined,
An illuminated transience.

Today my house is lost in milk,
The milky veils of a blizzard.
The trees have turned pale.
There are no shadows,
That is the problem – no shadows
At all.

It is harder to see what one sees
Than anyone knows.
Monet knew, spent a lifetime
Trying to undazzle the light
And pin it down.

May Sarton
Letters from Maine: New Poems, 1984

They, too, are haunted by the need / To hold the fleeting still / In a design

We cannot hold the fleeting still. That’s why, for us, time so often appears, inexplicably, to fly. And time between the 3rd November 2022 and tonight, the 19th November 2022, appears to me to have passed in the blink of an eye. Of course, I have flashing memories of a flu jab, dental treatment, a Covid vaccine booster, poems read, accounts enumerated, letters written and received, some loving conversations – about life, and about death, about love, and about grief: yes, of course. Yet still there’s a degree of unknowing, an inability to grasp time’s flight, and probably a need to step out, sometimes, for a while, from the paths of routine, simply to breathe ‘illuminated transience.’ Yes: there are times and spaces when It is harder to see what one sees / Than anyone knows.

This blog remains a steady friend to me – sometimes in daily conversations and at others, in much the same way as happens in many other relationships, by way of catch-up. Revisiting. Re-membering. Undazzling the light. This blog reminds me – encourages me – to recognise profound beauty in the daily journey, not just in the destination. This blog slows me down within the continuum, the quiet voice at my shoulder inviting me to love and to life. And with every blink of my eyes, with every breath breathed in and out, with every attempt to catch a fleeting thought, or to let a thought take flight, the view changes. Focus zooms in and out … harder to see what one sees / Than anyone knows …

But – Light through a petal – it’s OK to be moved only ever so slightly in the breeze: to stay awhile, to let all that is, within and beyond, tell us quietly what ungraspable time and life and love are really all about.


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Hearth of red and gold


Reflections by a Fire

On moving into an old house in New Hampshire

Fire is a good companion for the mind;
Here in this room, mellowed by sunlight, kind
After yesterday’s thrall of rain and dark,
I watch the fire and feel some warm thoughts spark …

May Sarton
Collected Poems

A good walk on a cool grey afternoon, coupled with thoughts of some more baked apples for supper, have resulted in the lighting of my wood stove and plans for that most lovely of autumnal occupations: hot coffee, buttered scones and books beside the fire. Sometime yesterday I was speaking with a friend about the power of evocation. Oh so very much is evoked and re-membered by a warm ash-burning hearth of red and gold. And ‘warm thoughts spark …’

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A cloud of interests


more @gardenstudiogram | click to enlarge

There wasn’t
time enough for all the wonderful things
I could think of to do

in a single day. Patience
comes to the bones
before it takes root in the heart

as another good idea.
I say this
as I stand in the woods

and study the patterns
of the moon shadows,
or stroll down into the waters

that now, late summer, have also
caught the fever, and hardly move
from one eternity to another.

Mary Oliver
From ‘Patience’
New and Selected Poems
Volume Two

Happy September! I’m having a quiet evening and feeling peaceful and mellow.

I’ve been thinking, too, about my automatically generated ‘tag cloud’ here, and of how it gives a pretty good account of some of my chief interests … inner life, contemplation, Edinburgh, poetry …

Autumn and winter will be warmed by an array of interests and occupations like these.


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Lingering at the Well

Photo at Pexels

One thing is certain, and I have always known it – the joys of my life have nothing to do with age. They do not change. Flowers, the morning and evening light, music, poetry, silence, the goldfinches darting about …

May Sarton

Freesias, for me. For my desk. Peppery and colourful. And my best ever morning light? Two best ever! i – Sunrise over Galilee. ii – Normandy. Scented apple orchards and a golden mist hung a few feet above rolling fields, just after sunrise. Evening? In winter when it’s time for firelight. Music? Usually one piece at a time, silence before and aft to hold words, notation, resonance (!) and echo. Poetry? – my way of allowing the Universe to speak to me randomly: close my eyes and take down a volume – pot luck, usually followed by more of good fortune than anticipated. Silence? – why silence? William Stafford’s glorious ‘Listening’ suggests an answer more exquisitely than I’ve ever penned to date. And goldfinches? The ones who seem to enjoy my Japanese Acer as much as I do. Two little tininesses that fly-in disproportionate measures of duty-free joy from wherever they’ve been playing.

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

William Stafford
from West of Your City
Talisman, 1960

Deep the wells that supply entire lifetimes.

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Waiting near the Well


Solitude itself is a way of waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself felt. And that is why solitude is never static and never hopeless

May Sarton

Post-Covid-19 breathlessness has somewhat increased my present solitude as I lack energy to tackle grocery shopping, or to eat much anyway, or to engage with ordinary human encounters – though I’d love a big warm hug right now!

Yet there is fine company to be enjoyed in a library populated by other solitary souls. ‘Virtual friendships’ and connections existed long before the advent of the world-wide web. And many the seeming disadvantage that offers gifts hidden just beneath the surface – many the refreshing pail to be drawn from the well at home on a quiet day.

This afternoon I’ve had my thirst quenched again ‘From May Sarton’s Well’ and by Hartmut Rosa’s ‘Resonance.’ In a world in which (regrettable) acceleration seems to be the aim and the way in all things, Rosa proposes not deceleration as a governing balance but resonance instead. And though there’ll be a lot more to be said about a work with which I’m taking my time, the proposal already resonates with me!

May Sarton proffers solitude as ‘a way of waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself felt.’ And I find myself having a bit of time to apply both Rosa and Sarton’s notions to the ways we relate to each other – and the ways we feel about what can’t immediately be seen or spoken. In frustration, sometimes, we err on the side of either acceleration or deceleration in our encounters – be we artist or scientist, carer, caterer or consumer, educator, engineer, fabricator, lawyer, lover, medic, musician, parent, politician or retailer. How would it be for us if we afforded more attention to resonance, to vibration, to a being able to tune into resonating wavelength?

Solitude. Resonance. Waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself felt. I intuit that such a way of living – even dreaming, perhaps – will prove worth the wait and the always growing sense of hope and of wonder at the well.


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The electric current is love

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on

When I said that all poems are love poems, I meant that the motor power, the electric current is love of one kind or another. The subject may be something quite impersonal

May Sarton

Our beloved poets are the people with whom one can have an ongoing conversation in head and heart, whether miles or eternities apart. I have regular conversations of that kind with May Sarton – who died on another continent in 1995. Poems – and such conversations – often reflect upon ourselves, and others, and the shared environment we all inhabit – physical, mental and spiritual.

If I close my eyes I can imagine May Sarton’s study into being (several of them, through her lifetime, of course); I can see the jug of flowers on a pedestal table, and a lamp lit at evening. And though I never met her, the odd photograph in her books here and there, her poetry and contemplative prose, have each contributed to my mind’s eye and are the stuff of the kinds of conversations I’ve always loved.

May Sarton could feel and write about heartache and joy simultaneously, while watching raindrops on a windowpane. And I think she was right … all poems are love poems – of one kind or another. Poetry, and love, for May Sarton, as for me, is LIFE – and I am thankful for her.


img_4901 Photo at Pixabay

After teachingI 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

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.


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

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.

Light-possessed atmosphere

Last evening I mentioned the Jodrell Bank Observatory – home to star-gazing telescopes, and the International Space Station – temporary home to some of the world’s highest and best trained scientists and explorers. Tonight I’m thinking of a favourite American poet and journal keeper, herself a kind of human observatory whose powers of empathy, invocation, perception and reflection have me returning “into, out of, under” her works over and over again. Here’s May Sarton’s


Come out of the dark earth
Here where the minerals
Glow in their stone cells
Deeper than seed or birth.

Come under the strong wave
Here where the tug goes
As the tide turns and flow
Below that architrave.

Come into the pure air
Above all heaviness
Of storm and cloud to this
Light-possessed atmosphere.

Come into, out of, under
The earth, the wave, the air.
Love, touch us everywhere
With primeval candor.

May Sarton
Collected Poems: 1930-1993, page 364

The end of …

When May Sarton, in company with other contemplatives, orators and poets, reflects on “the end of …” – a flower, perhaps, or a person, or a poem, or the theatre, she’s thinking not just of the finale, or the last stanza, or of expiration, or of wilting and composting, of conclusion. “The end of …” might sometimes be rendered “the purpose of …” – albeit that this may, or may not, include a conclusion to some activity, or to some thing, or for someone.

There’s something of purpose intertwined with all of life’s beginnings and endings. And this is the subject material in Austin Farrer’s collection of university sermons The End of Man. Both purpose and ultimate end, both end and ultimate purpose. So Farrer often brings poets to mind, and poets often make me think of Farrer.

Of the Church, rather as another might of poetry, Austin Farrer writes:

We may begin by making a fuss about the Church, as a clever boy may make a fuss about a telescope, admiring its mechanism of tubes and lenses, and fiddling with the gadgets. But the purpose of the telescope is to eliminate itself and leave us face to face with the object of vision. So long as you are aware of the telescope you do not see the planet. But look, suddenly the focus is perfect; there is the hard ball of silver light, there are the sloping vaporous rings, and there the clear points, the satellites. And where is the telescope? It is no more to us than the window-pane through which we look into our garden.

Austin Farrer
The End of Man, page 52

Poet and prophet alike ask of humankind, “What is your end? What is your purpose?”. And just every once in a while, for all of us, for a fleeting moment, “suddenly the focus is perfect”. That’s why we need prophets and poets. That’s why we need to be poets and prophets.