Monday, January 4, 2021

Books: Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton




“Whatever peace I know rests in the natural world, in feeling myself a part of it, even in a small way.”   (Sarton, May: Journal of a Solitude, W.W Norton & Company, New York 1992, p.16)

"There is nothing to be done but go ahead with life moment by moment and hour by hour - put out birdseed, tidy the rooms, try to create order and peace around me even if I cannot achieve it inside me. [...] And here in my study the sunlight is that autumn white, so clear, it calls for an inward act to match it... clarify, clarify." (ibid., p.33)

Best known for her poetry, this is one of the journals May Sarton published, of a year in her life in the early 1970s when she was approaching sixty and living on her own in New Hampshire. It is a beautifully written account of life in solitude, her inner world, her connection to nature, the changing seasons, her love of gardening and animals, her writing process, ageing, depression and the meaning of home.

Sarton is honest about her flaws, such as anger and being difficult, but her self-criticism is tempered by compassion and serenity. She writes movingly about the redemption (and the restrictions) of  friendship and love, and her journal includes reflections on politics, race, feminism and literature and extracts of her correspondence and from other writers’ works.

I love her descriptions of simple pleasures and how she imbues everything with a sense of wonder. I am obsessed with observing the changing light around the house and the pattern it forms and was delighted to see Sarton detail this play of light and shadow in a lot of her entries. She also creates a vivid picture of the various ways she brings nature into her home - each of those still lifes is seen through her poet eyes. 

As I mentioned here before, the theme of home has been a big one over the past year, and so many of the books I read in 2020 happened to have the houses we live in and the homes we leave or lose as well as those we create for ourselves as a central theme, or perhaps I was more attuned to it in the year my childhood home was transformed and I wasn't able to visit my family. And of course I have spent most of the past ten months at home, and the fabric of the house (with all its issues!) has become interwoven with nearly everything I do.

Journal of a Solitude is the perfect read for level 5 restrictions / stormy weather / any time, especially for introverts. I read this over a stormy couple of days during one of the lockdowns and wanted to re-read it straight away – it is one of those books that you want to revisit and that reveals more layers each time. 


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