The Common Good
September-October 1995

May Sarton: Years of Praise

by Rose Marie Berger | September-October 1995

"I am determined to die where I am. In the little house that I rent from good friends, overlooking the sea....We grow toward death."

"I am determined to die where I am. In the little house that I rent from good friends, overlooking the sea....We grow toward death. It is the last great adventure and we must prepare for it."

-May Sarton (1912-1995)

May Sarton died on July 15, 1995, in York, Maine, at the age of 83. She was a novelist, playwright, journal-keeper, poet, and, since 1980, subscriber and donor to Sojourners.

The New York Times' obituary described her as the "strongest of individualists...a stoical figure in American culture"; The Washington Post, as a prolific feminist and lesbian writer. She was, no doubt, all of these, but first she was a deeply contemplative poet who would give up everything the world deems important for the sake of her work, her art- as she said-"her prayer."

The spirituality of May Sarton is largely ignored in reviews of her work. The art world was not prepared to deal with the depth of her faith, and the church was not prepared for her feminine strengths and sufficiencies. Yet from the earliest sonnets, published in 1929, to Coming Into Eighty (1994), each delicate white peony, each wild sky breaking overhead, each silence, is wrapped in witness to God. She prepared for death through faithfulness to her life.

In "Because What I Want Most Is Permanence" (The Land of Silence, 1954), she wrote, "I come to you with only the straight gaze./These are not hours of fire but years of praise." The journal of her 82nd year is to be published this fall.


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