The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Meditation in Sunlight: May Sarton’s Stunning Poem About the Relationship Between Presence, Solitude, and Love

Meditation in Sunlight: May Sarton’s Stunning Poem About the Relationship Between Presence, Solitude, and Love

May Sarton (May 3, 1912–July 16, 1995) was thirty-three when she left Cambridge for Santa Fe. She had just lived through a World War and a long period of personal turmoil that had syphoned her creative vitality — a kind of deadening she had not experienced before. Under the immense blue skies that had so enchanted the young Georgia O’Keeffe a generation earlier, she started coming back to life. Her white-washed room at the boarding house had mountain views, a rush of sunlight, and a police dog and “a very nice English teacher” for neighbors. As the sun rose over the mountains, she woke up each morning “simply on fire” with poetry — new poems she read to the English teacher, not yet knowing she was falling in love with her. Judy would become her great love, then her lifelong friend and the closest she ever had to family.

Among the constellation of Santa Fe poems composed during this creative renaissance is an especially beguiling reflection on the relationship between presence, solitude, and love, soon published in Sarton’s 1948 poetry collection The Lion and the Rose (public library) — her first in a decade — and read here for us by my longtime poetry co-invocator Amanda Palmer in her lovely oceanic voice:

by May Sarton

In space in time I sit
Thousands of feet above
The sea and meditate
On solitude on love

Near all is brown and poor
Houses are made of earth
Sun opens every door
The city is a hearth

Far all is blue and strange
The sky looks down on snow
And meets the mountain-range
Where time is light not shadow

Time in the heart held still
Space as the household god
And joy instead of will
Knows love as solitude

Knows solitude as love
Knows time as light not shadow
Thousands of feet above
The sea where I am now

Complement with Sarton on the cure for despair, how to live openheartedly in a harsh world, and her stunning ode to solitude, then revisit Amanda’s soulful readings of Jane Kenyon’s meditation on life with and after depression, Elizabeth Bishop’s timeless consolation for loss, Ellen Bass’s immense and intimate poem of perspective and possibility, and Mary Oliver’s “When I Am Among the Trees.”

Published February 12, 2023




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