Saturday, July 5, 2014

At 80, the Past Is Now

Photo "Time & Tide"  by Seriykotik1970.

I find it very powerful to read what seasoned writers have to say from their vantage point.

As an older poet who has suffered a stroke, Sarton writes poems that are minimal "because my life is reduced to essences" (p. 11).  I find great beauty in the images she draws from her home located on the coast of York, Maine.

In the poem below, May Sarton resists living solely in the present moment:

May Sarton's poem "The Tides":

The Tides

I pretend
To live in the present.
Now is what I crave,
Finches at the feeder,
Sunlight on a rose.

But memory
The relentless tide
Suddenly brings alive
A forgotten moment
With such fright
Of passionate grief in it
I cry out

The past is Now.
The tide rises and falls.
There is no shutting it out.

(Published 1994 by May Sarton b. 1912 in the collection Coming Into Eighty.)

At 80, this truism shared about "living in the moment" falls apart for Sarton.  Why?

Time collapses when you age--or so reports my mother and my Uncle Gerald along with Sarton.

More Examples of Time Collapsing

The film Ladies in Lavender (2004) depicts this phenomenon of time collapsing as does the novel The Stone Angel by Margeret Laurence. I have also read about this conflation of time in the writings of Ram Dass, Bill Plotkin and Lars Tornstam.

An earlier post on Transcending Age describes Tornstam's theory of gerotranscendence, which includes the observation that some older adults have "a more holistic view of time with the past, present and future sometimes merging together."

In my twenties, I got a little preview of the conflation of past, present and future while reading T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. Reading Sarton's poem nudges me to dig up a copy of Eliot's poem (which is a grouping of four poems).  I suspect she's alluding to him, given she chooses a rose as the flower she's regarding during a reverie about memory and time.

I don't often reread literature, but some works can totally change meaning based on generational perspective. 

I found this to be true with Hamlet, King LearPride and Prejudice, and The Death of Ivan Ilych. Rereading these works at midlife changed the meanings significantly from when I first read them when I was a young adult. I need to reread Four Quartets next.

In the mean time, I will hold Sarton in my mind's eye as she sits by the sea.

She flickers before me--at once as a child full of wonder, a midlife poet publishing at a phenomenal rate, and a mature woman creating simply beautiful poems based on her decades' of experience.

Sarton helps me see how we all sit on the edge of eternity if we would only slow down enough--the way poets do--to see it all around us.


Transcending Age
May Sarton: Poet
Novels about Mature Men Facing Death