“You choose to be a novelist, but you’re chosen to be a poet. This is a gift and it’s a tremendous responsibility. You have to be willing to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care, because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough.”
—May Sarton, Belgian-American poet, novelist, and memoirist (May 3 1912-1995)
Reading these words of May Sarton forces me to recall the many poems I wrote several years ago, during a very dark period of my life.
I did not choose to write those poems; they came to me and I was compelled to record them. Entire poems came at me – sonnets, quatrains, sestets – and I had to stop whatever I was doing and write them down. In many cases, they came to me whole and perfect, and required little revision. Some I shared; most I kept hidden away. Most were inspired by my observations of nature, and many explored the obvious metaphorical interpretations we humans impose upon natural cycles – the turn of seasons, night and day, the lunar cycle, earth and water. It’s doubtful that anyone could read them and understand how the images and metaphorical explorations reflected on my inner landscape at the time. Still, I am reluctant to bring them out of the dark hiding place where they have languished these many years.
Here’s a sonnet by May Sarton, on this, the anniversary of her birth. How wonderful that the sonnet – a form that many believe to be archaic, dead, and irrelevant – remains, and always will be, so compelling a form for expressions and explorations of human thought and emotion. The fourteen lines, the patterned rhyme scheme, the final couplet – these enable the poet to command the experience, to distill an ocean of emotion, to lay out a metaphor concisely and without indulgence.
The earth is slim between two who have seen
How a white pigeon floats across the wind;
It is not wide for them. The earth between
Bird-minds is thin, and the world’s end
Only as far as a white pigeon’s wing,
And death a door into each other’s heart.
They are the ones who watch for geese in spring,
And there are moments when two minds apart
May reach across earth to some middle zone
And meet, brushing wings, flying together,
Then wheel and each slide down the wind alone
Back to his separate skin, his meagre feather.
They are also great lovers, who, like birds,
Have spanned an earth, drunk on each other’s words.