May Sarton on the Gifts of—& Remedy for—Despair

Tara C. Trapani

Today we’d like to share some thoughts from the poet May Sarton on despair–what many see as the shadow side of Hope, our theme for this year.

In addition to her poems and novels, she penned and published a number of reflective journals throughout her lifetime. At the age of 60, she released Journal of a Solitude, in which she explores despair and aloneness–the challenges of them, yes, but even more so, the gifts to be found in them. And therein lies a great portion of the remedy, according to her–to honor the treasure to be found in these seemingly undesirable states instead of resisting them. 

But though she finds beauty in them, she does not wallow or remain stuck. The other half of the remedy is to be like nature around us–like the trees–accepting and embracing of change, the cycles and seasons, and the necessity of loss.

In this musing from Solitude she also shares: 

Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.

Read much more about her thoughts on despair and excerpts from Journal of a Solitude in The Marginalian.
And for more about her, and her reflections on life and writing, watch this lovely biographic short film made about her in 1980, narrated by May Sarton herself.