Jan 30 2019

May Sarton – The Work of Happiness

Published by at 10:04 am under Poetry

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall —
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

— from May Sarton, Collected Poems, 1930-1993, by May Sarton


/ Image by Holly Lay /

This morning I rediscovered this poem and thought, I have to share this with everyone.

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.

I like the poet’s vision of happiness as a quiet, steady reality that comes upon us almost unnoticed. Real happiness does not come upon us in a hot rush, only to leave just as unexpectedly. It is not dependent on what is happening to us; it is not the result of events or experiences.

Happiness is cultivated. It is nurtured. It grows from silence, from peace, and from inner strengthening and unseen growth.

No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

If we are constantly focused outward on action and accomplishment and experience, at best we find fleeting, overly caffeinated, under satisfying versions of the happiness we truly crave.

For Sarton, happiness is about quiet presence, that which is steady and always there, yet unnoticed in the background — like solid furniture. It is what supports us and makes our lives functional. It is what populates the corners of our homes, defining the spaces in which we live:

A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall —
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done…

She sees in furniture something of timelessness. The chest or table sits there, year after year, timeless in its unchanging presence, as the days wash over it.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place…?

And, when we think about it, our furniture, our rooms, our apartments and houses are where we do our growth. They are the outer containers of our inner worlds. We move amongst them as we feel and contemplate and realize.

Tables, chairs, and beds are our intimate companions, knowing our movement and our silences. They are bathed in our breath and our thoughts. Over time they take on our energies.

No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless

When we do our inner work to cultivate happiness, our mundane material world frames and focuses our inner contentment.

Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

=

To everyone affected by the intensely cold weather, stay bundled up and warm and safe.

May Sarton, May Sarton poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry May Sarton

US (1912 – 1995) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by May Sarton

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “May Sarton – The Work of Happiness”

  1. P Fanningon 30 Jan 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you!

  2. Raechel Bratnickon 31 Jan 2019 at 12:17 pm

    This is exactly what I needed today. Reading it a day after you posted it, but perfect timing as I was wandering lost through an unstructured day and searching for what could help me refocus and renew my happiness. I had decided that what gives me most happiness and a sense of ritual is to light a candle and read a poem every morning, so even though it is evening here, I decided to start now. That’s when I found May Sarton’s poem about how happiness is woven out of silence and peace, which to me means I am the weaver of happiness. I can hold the intention to renew happiness every day. Even on days when I weep for the pain being inflicted in the world about us.
    Thank you, Raechel

  3. Bob Corbinon 03 Feb 2019 at 9:36 pm

    Love this poem more each time I read it, and your commentary as well.

    “Happiness” works better in this poem than “joy” would,
    but she is really writing about joy.

    A friend says that happiness is like fruit loops and joy is like shredded wheat. The former gives me a quick high; the later is more lasting, more nutritious. and, ultimately, more satisfying.

  4. Lynn McLureon 05 Feb 2019 at 12:56 pm

    I have been away from your website for a long time. Picked up Real Thirst from a basket in my study just now and realized how much I have missed your offerings. As I am old and live in solitude, this May Sarton poem is perfect for me here in my cabin looking out on mountains. Thank you.

  5. Elaon 06 Feb 2019 at 6:29 pm

    Take no one for granted.

    Every single person
    is a universe of being.

    Because each soul lands on the
    stage of earth as a king along with two
    ministers that are intellect and mind
    unfortunately ministers over power the
    king, therefore, it behaves like a slave.

    And no one tells the king about the
    seven divine treasures it possesses
    that are happiness, love, bliss,
    knowledge, peace, power and purity.
    Hence the king becomes a poor soul.

    In this fast pacing world, the peace less
    soul takes the assistance of anger and
    other negative traits to achieve success
    only to be frustrated and unhappy. so
    let us know who we are, kings or slaves.
    We have to learn and also unlearn.

    Cosmos has provided us a lot of wonders,
    a whole fruit tree is inherent in a small seed,
    a tiny soul already has in it happiness,
    when we sit in silence with a mind full of
    gratitude we realize our true identity.
    i have learnt all this through rajyoga.

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