I guess you know by now that I like reading poetry. I don’t know when this affection began – maybe back in kindergarten…”A birdy with a yellow bill hopped upon my windowsill…” Anyone remember that one?  But, given the embarrassing fact that this rhyme has stayed with me over 70 years, I imagine I can safely trace the roots of my love of poetry back to that early time.

I have never attempted to compose a poem, though this undertaking would seem natural given my interest. Who knows? Maybe someday.

For today, though, I’d like to share with you another of my favorites – a bit more sophisticated than the yellow-billed birdy on the sill.  I came across this poem again last week and, after sitting with it for awhile, realized it had so much more meaning for me now than it ever did way back when. Don’t get me wrong. I have always loved reading May Sarton’s poetry. I suppose that’s why I saved this one. But back then the context of my reading was so very different. And my interpretation, naturally, was based on the experiences I brought to the reading. Back then the much younger me concluded that this was an inspired tale of aging (which, of course, it is).

But now, as I read Ms. Sarton’s words, I see and sense so much more. Layered atop the aging theme is a new reprise – one that would never have occurred to me during my first encounter with the poem and likely one that was never intended by this brilliant writer. But given the events of this past year, this particular interpretation speaks loudly to me.  Listen, if you would…see if you can hear it…

The House of Gathering
May Sarton

If old age is a house of gathering,
Then the hands are full.
There are old trees to prune
And young plants to plant,
There are seeds to be sown.
Not less of anything

But more of everything
To care for,
To maintain,
To keep sorted out,
A profusion of people
To answer, to respond to.

But we have been ripening
to a greater ease,
learning to accept
that all hungers cannot be fed,
that saving the world
may be a matter
of sowing a seed
not overthrowing a tyrant,
that we do what we can.

The moment of vision,
the seizure still makes
its relentless demands:
Work, Love, Be Silent,

Can you, too, feel and hear another possible theme? “We have been ripening…” says the poet. Perhaps that truly is what has been occurring during these months. If so, what a beautiful thing this is! Perhaps, the confluence of events inflicted upon us over this past year has brought us back to ‘the center’ where there is balance…where we understand that our powers are limited, disappointments are inevitable, and only through acceptance of our limitations can we make any progress towards that change that is so needed.

And, if we accept this “modern” interpretation of May Sarton’s words, we can also apply the advice she offered back then. Begin small, sow a seed. “Work, Love, Be Silent…Speak”.


Your thoughts? Please share them with us in the comment section below or send me an email to blog@mindingourlives.com.  Do you enjoy poetry? Have you ever written a poem? If you have an interest in poetry but don’t know where to begin, I’d recommend you pick up a copy of one of these: Stephanie Burt’s primer Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems or How To Read Poetry Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster or, of course there is always Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook.

Looking forward to hearing from you!