(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Gestalt at Sixty,” a poem in May Sarton’s A Durable Fire (1972), repeats many of the themes found in her earlier poems, journals, and novels. The poet reviews her ten years of living in Nelson, New Hampshire, celebrates her sixtieth birthday, and explores the fabric of her life and the significance of her experiences. The gestalt of the title refers to the wholeness or totality of life experiences. In Gestalt psychology, the overall meaning of one’s experience is greater than the sum of its parts (individual experiences, events, interactions). Thus, when Sarton analyzes her life on her sixtieth birthday, she tries to make sense of the underlying patterns that are the basis of her experiences. She examines the various forces that have contributed to the formation of her identity, her values, and her philosophy of life.

What does it mean to be sixty? Sarton divides her response to that question into three parts. In part 1, she affirms the importance of the natural world in her life. She refers to the lakes, mountains, flowers, and trees, all of which nurture her soul and stimulate her creativity. She addresses an important theme of the relationship between solitude and creativity. She maintains, “Solitude exposes the nerve.” Solitude provides the greatest test for the artist, who has to face the limitations, fears, and shortcomings within herself in order to create. The pressures of solitude provoke passionate responses to life. Sarton...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Berman, Harry J. “May Sarton and the Tensions of Attachment.” In Integrating the Aging Self: Personal Journals of Later Life. New York: Springer, 1994.

Blouin, Lenora P. May Sarton: A Bibliography. 2d ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 2000.

Braham, Jeanne. Crucial Conversations: Interpreting Contemporary American Literary Autobiographies by Women. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1995.

Fulk, Mark. Understanding May Sarton. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Ingersoll, Earl, ed. Conversations with May Sarton. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Kallet, Marilyn, ed. A House of Gathering: Poets on May Sarton’s Poetry. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

Peters, Margot. May Sarton: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Sherman, Susan, ed. May Sarton: Selected Letters. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1997-2000.

Swartzlander, Susan, and Marilyn R. Mumford, eds. That Great Sanity: Critical Essays on May Sarton. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.