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Tag Archives: May Sarton

The Angels and the Furies

May Sarton used the questions about the light and dark sides we each possess, but often go unnoticed. They inhabit our souls, which she calls premier danseur–first dancer. The angels and furies of our personalities are always with us, dancing with each other to gain our attention.

When I read this poem some time ago, I jotted down that to notice the furies sometimes they have to dance furiously to gain our attention. We prefer not to acknowledge their presence, but they are there and real along with our angels.

It is the mindful inner work that helps us understand the paradox of living in a world with both our angels and furies. It is not a choice between them. They exist with each other and both need our time and attention.

Have you not wounded yourself
And battered those you love
By sudden motions of evil,
Black rage in the blood
When the soul, premier danseur,
Springs toward a murderous fall?
The furies possess you.

2

Have you not surprised yourself
Sometimes by sudden motions
Or intimations of goodness,
When the soul, premier danseur,
Perfectly poised,
Could shower blessings
With a graceful turn of the head?
The angels are there.

3

The angels, the furies
Are never far away
While we dance, we dance,
Trying to keep a balance
To be perfectly human
(Not perfect, never perfect,
Never an end to growth and peril),
Able to bless and forgive
Ourselves.
This is what is asked of us.

4

It is light that matters,
The light of understanding.
Who has ever reached it
Who has not met the furies again and again?
Who has reached it without
Those sudden acts of grace?

Christmas Light

May Sarton provided a simple message for this time of year. When we take a moment and share a few moments of quiet, there is sometimes a feeling of being reborn. It is in the quiet and simple moments we feel love’s presence.

As I prepared to post, I read the poem again. It took May Sarton almost a whole year to feel love’s presence. Regardless of our beliefs, each day is a special celebration and feeling love’s presence. Each day offers silent spaces for meditation and prayer bringing us closer to each other.

Take care and enjoy each day as if it were a special and wonder filled holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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.

An Observation

We live in paradox in the world. Parker Palmer uses May Sarton‘s poetry in his writing to bring this point to life. It is hard to be sensitive and being gentle requires a certain toughness.

Since I arrived home, I have read more than I have written. In part, I am exploring the aesthetic qualities that life shares with us. There are qualities that allow us to live in the world in ways that we do not bruise or wound the hidden fruit. Yet, we are left with scars in that work  forever making us stronger when we are not wearing gloves. The paradox of life is gives us strength and sureness and, at the same, we are tender and vulnerable.

Teaching, and for that matter any pedagogic work, requires that sensitivity. It is always rough as there is no how-to-manual. We learn this work through the tact and sensitivity of the work itself, reflecting more on what goes well as opposed to what goes well in pedagogic forming. We come to be observant, patient, and see the particular of each situation revealed in the universal.

True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother’s hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

A Glass of Water

When we used to go to the farm, one treat was drinking the well water. It was always cool and sweet in the truck when we hayed. It was better than champagne.

If we traveled on from the farm, we sometimes took well water. It meant we had water if we stopped for lunch or needed it in the car.

May Sarton wrote about water’s beauty. The poem reminded me how I take some things for granted and overlook their extraordinary nature. When I take time and am mindful, the sweetness is revealed.

Here is a glass of water from my well.
It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain;
It is the best I have, my only spell,
And it is cold, and better than champagne.
Perhaps someone will pass this house one day
To drink, and be restored, and go his way,
Someone in dark confusion as I was
When I drank down cold water in a glass,
Drank a transparent health to keep me sane,
After the bitter mood had gone again.

Now I Become Myself

We had a very good day. We are beginning to say good-bye. It has taken many years for me to reach this place. As May Sarton suggested, I ran madly many times seeming to think that busyness was the order of the day. Or I wore the faces of other people. I think these faces were often mine, but that they masked the real me. It was hard to let the guard down and be my self at times. It is easier and easier and I can stand still right here in this moment and now in this moment. Ah, what a feeling.

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!

Beyond Questions

I close my week with this wonderful poem by May Sarton. As I reflect on the week passed, I hope I am left with more questions than answers and the time to luxuriate in the space between the question and answer. I noticed today and yesterday, when I pause and let go, my monkey mind chatter is greatly reduced. It has been helpful.

The phoebe sits on her nest

Hour after hour,

Day after day,

Waiting for life to burst out

From under her warmth.

Can I wave a nest for silence,

Weave it out of listening,

Listening,

Layer upon layer?

But one must first become small,

Nothing but a presence

Attentive as a nesting bird,

Proffering no slightest wish

Toward anything that might happen

Or be given,

Only the warmth, faithful waiting,

Contained in one’s smallness.

Beyond the question, the silence.

Before the answer, the silence.

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