Selected Poems of May Sarton Summary

May Sarton


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

This volume of poems covers forty years of work and is arranged in seven sections by subject. It contains many of May Sarton’s best-known poems, including “Gestalt at Sixty,” “My Sisters, O My Sisters,” and a selection from “A Divorce of Lovers,” a group of twenty love sonnets.

Sarton’s journals and memoirs have earned for her her widest and most devoted audience; she is also the author of many novels, two books for children, and screenplays, but Sarton considered herself to be first and foremost a poet. In her poetry, she strove to “transcend the painfully personal and reach the universal,” she said in her final published journal, Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (1993).

The first section, “The Composed Imagination,” contains poems written about works of art, scenes of nature, and animals. The poems about art, in particular, reflect her classical European upbringing. The next three sections—“Love,” “Solitude,” and “Nature”—touch on the subjects she celebrated and despaired of in her journals and memoirs. “In a Dirty Time” addresses such political events as the killings at Kent State during the time of the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The longest section, “Invocations and Mythologies,” includes poems ranging from classical subjects, such as “Proteus,” “Birthday on the Acropolis,” and “The Return of Aphrodite,” to the simple fifteen-line poem “Prayer Before Work.” The final section is “The Action of Therapy,” a single poem of the same name.

Sarton, a lesbian, wrote many of her poems to and about women, but she often said that she did not want to be known as a lesbian poet. The love poems, such as the selection from “A Divorce of Lovers,” have evoked responses from men and women of all sexual orientations. Sarton said that her aim in her writing is not to appeal to a lesbian audience. As she wrote in Recovering: A Journal (1980) “The vision of life in my work is not limited to one segment of humanity or another and it has little to do with sexual proclivity. It does have to do with love, and love has many forms and is not easy or facile in any of them. . . . If I represent anything in the public consciousness it is as a solitary [which is what has] made so many men and women I do not know, regard me as a friend.”


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Cotter, James Finn. “Familiar Poetry.” The Hudson Review 32, no. 1 (Spring, 1979): 109-122.

Hunting, Constance, ed. May Sarton: Woman and Poet. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1992.

Sibley, Agnes. May Sarton. New York: Twayne, 1972.