Art and Life


Last evening I heard the first nighthawk of summer, a buzzy “eee-irnk” call floating above the roofs and treetops. They’re back to eat mosquitoes and raise young. I was in the garden, where the honeysuckle slowly opens and the inky blue delphinium sways over my head. Dusk lasts so long this time of year that I don’t want to come inside. I could stay out with the flowers and insects and birds all night.

Earlier in the day I had brought in a bouquet of white peonies, dark pink roses, and purple campanulas. I had also been to the library and found a treasure upstairs on the used bookshelf–The House By The Sea, by May Sarton. This is the book that follows her Journal of A Solitude which I have read several times. What I appreciate about Sarton’s journals is the back and forth between the inner world and the outer. As a poet, she was ferocious about the time and space needed for thinking and writing. But she was also a devoted gardener and having flowers in the house was a necessity for her. Flowers marked the changing seasons, as did the appearances and disappearances of birds. These things were celebrated with attention, which is what poets do. They notice things and distill experiences into a few potent words.

In 1976, when she wrote about the house by the sea in Maine, May Sarton was 63 years old. The United States was 200 years old that year, and I was 16. She was making the transition to old age and I was approaching adulthood. I wish I had known of her as I came of age–a solo woman artist who was a passionate gardener. Her journals reveal a perceived conflict between art and life. She felt that it was not possible for women to pursue a deep inner life and make art while being married and raising children. She often resented the demands made upon her because she was a noted author, but the travel and speaking also stimulated her. Home was a solitary refuge as well as a place to share with her most beloved friends. A balance between inner and outer seemed to elude her. Perhaps she came to terms with this later in life–two more journals were published after the ones that I have read.

I am no stranger to the perception of conflict between art and life, inner and outer. My own journal is filled with the tracks of moving from one state to another and fussing about time. Is there really a conflict? When I am in the garden, art is life and life is art. When I am out on the trail, I stop thinking about it at all. John Muir wrote about going out for a walk only to discover that in going out he was really going in.

And that is what the voices of the nighthawks reminded me–celebrate life with attention to every moment of it.

One thought on “Art and Life

  1. May Sarton is wonderful! Her books kept me company when I was in my twenties. Thank- you for the lovely reminder of her work.

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