Collected Poems, 1930-1993 Analysis

May Sarton

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Collected Poems, 1930-1993 provides some five hundred pages of May Sarton’s poetry from her first volume, Encounter in April (1937), through The Silence Now: New and Collected Earlier Poems (1988). The collection is a tribute to an author who has been prolific for more than six decades in the literary genre that she most admires, poetry. This collection, while not including all her published poems, clearly demonstrates Sarton’s power as a creative artist and reveals that her later poetry is some of her most memorable.

The book lets the poems speak for themselves. There is no bibliography, merely a list of the titles of forty-eight books—poetry, novels, nonfiction, and books for children—that Sarton has published. (Other books published after 1988 are not listed, including two 1992 volumes of poetry, Coming into Eighty and Now I Become Myself.) There is no introduction, no footnotes, and no commentary. The index lists only titles and first lines of the poems, rather than covering topics.

The collection is divided into fourteen sections, each given the title of one of fourteen volumes of Sarton’s previously published poetry. The sections are dated with the years in which the poems were written, such as the first section, “Encounter in April (1930-1937).” The final section ends in 1988, so the collection does not actually extend to 1993. Between 1937 and 1988, Sarton published...

(The entire section is 527 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

May Sarton is a unique figure in American literature for several reasons: the sheer productivity of her publications over so many decades, the variety of genres that she chooses for her writing, and the emphasis on a woman creating herself and seeing herself in relation to other women. Her novel Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965) was one of the first to present a lesbian protagonist openly and favorably. Her poetry often speaks to the question of women loving women, though, as in her prose, never in overtly sexual scenes. She has influenced many writers and countless readers with her emphasis on the importance of solitude and leading a life dedicated to the exploration of the changing self and the changing world.

For many decades, Sarton’s work was generally ignored or disparaged by the critical establishment, a point that she herself frequently noted. It was her journals, such as Plant Dreaming Deep (1968), Journal of a Solitude (1973), The House by the Sea (1977), Recovering (1980), and At Seventy: A Journal (1984), which attained a readership and praise that made her an increasingly important cultural figure, especially among women readers, starting in the 1970’s. One measure of Sarton’s popularity and significant contribution to contemporary literature and culture is the fact that almost all of Sarton’s work remains in print, both in hardcover and in paperback editions....

(The entire section is 427 words.)