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May Sarton (1912-1995)

Now I Become Myself

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 so by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I love
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

May Sarton (Eleanor Marie Sarton) was born in Belgium but moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1916 when her family fled the ravages of the war and her father took a part-time position at Harvard as a historian of science.  After high school she forfeited a scholarship to Vassar and moved to New York City to study theater and acting.  In her early twenties her theater ambitions died, and from that time forward she devoted her life to writing.  The publication of her novel Mrs. Steven Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965) announced her gay identity, and from then on Sarton was claimed by feminists, women’s studies scholars, and lesbians.  Although she appreciated the scholarly seriousness with which her work was taken, she resisted the label of a gay writer because she thought that it narrowed the broader focus of her work.  In the 1980s Sarton’s poetry readings attracted standing room only crowds, although her early critical acclaim was later eclipsed by sometimes harsh reviews.  By the time she died in 1995 she had published 53 books — 19 novels, 17 collections of poetry, 15 works of non-fiction, and 2 children’s books.

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