May 2, 2011 Now I Become Myself

Dear readers,
Why is it that April, May, and June are women’s first names, while September, October, and November are not? Some Mad Men fans will argue that January is a woman’s first name, but then I will counterclaim that Peanutbutter is also arguably a woman’s first name. Anyway, I totally missed noting that April is national poetry month, and now, unbelievably, we’re on to May. And the name May Sarton popped into my head, I don’t know why, probably some little fragment of required reading from grade school or high school. May Sarton lived through all the interesting parts of the American 20th century, began publishing in 1938, and did not stop until her death in 1995. She taught English at Harvard for a while, and in 1943-4 was a script writer for NYC’s overseas film unit, whatever that was. In the end, she’d published scores of books including fiction, plays, poetry, and memoir.
Here’s a poem good for running and growing older. The themes here are nothing new–tempus fugit, and also the idea that some kind of immortality is achieved through the act of writing itself–and you will recognize the influence of Andrew Marvell, William Shakespeare, and many other writers in the English tradition. In fact the pre-ante-penultimate line beginning, “O,” seems deliberately archaic. -ed.

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

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