May Sarton-poet, novelist, feminist, journal keeper, and Sojourners member-died this summer at the age of 83 (see "May Sarton: Years of Praise," September-October 1995). Sojourners Community used Sarton's poem "Nativity" during Advent last year. We offer it here in tribute and celebration for her acute sense that God always breaks into our human architectures, especially the frameworks of our hearts. -The Editors
Piero della Francesca
O cruel cloudless space,
And pale bare ground where the poor infant lies!
Why do we feel restored
As in a sacramental place?
Here Mystery is artifice,
And here a vision of such peace is stored,
Healing flows from it through our eyes.
Comfort and joy are near,
Not as we know them in the usual ways,
Personal and expected,
But utterly distilled and spare
Like a cool breath upon the air.
Emotion, it would seem, has been rejected
For a clear geometric praise.
Even the angels' stance
Is architectural in form:
They tell no story.
We see on each grave countenance,
Withheld as in a formal dance,
The awful joy, the serene glory:
It is the inscape keeps us warm.
Poised as a monument,
Thought rests, and in these balanced spaces
Whatever Piero meant,
The strange impersonal does not relent:
Here is love, naked, lying in great state
On the bare ground, as in all human faces.
Reprinted with permission from
Selected Poems of May Sarton (1978), available through W.W. Norton Publishers (500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110).