May 3, 2008

Fruit of Loneliness

by May Sarton

Now for a little I have fed on loneliness
As on some strange fruit from a frost-touched vine—
Persimmon in its yellow comeliness,
Of pomegranate-juice color of wine,
The pucker-mouth crab apple, or late plum—
On fruit of loneliness have I been fed.
But now after short absence I am come
Back from felicity to the wine and bread.
For, being mortal, this luxurious heart
Would starve for you, my dear, I must admit,
If it were held another hour apart
From that food which alone can comfort it—
I am come home to you, for at the end
I find I cannot live without you, friend.


"Fruit of Loneliness" by May Sarton, from Encounter in April. © Houghton Mifflin, 1937. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of playwright William Inge, (books by this author) born in Independence, Kansas (1913). As drama editor for the St. Louis Star-Times in 1945, he interviewed the playwright Tennessee Williams, whose play The Glass Menagerie was running in Chicago. When Inge went to see the play, it changed his life. "I found it so beautiful and so deeply moving that I felt a little ashamed for having led what I felt was an unproductive life," he later recalled. At 32, he set out to become a playwright.

His first big hit was Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), about a cynical, alcoholic man and his wife, who fantasizes about her happy childhood and her lost beauty. Inge went on to write Picnic (1953), which won a Pulitzer Prize and made a star of young actor Paul Newman.

Even with his success, Inge's tastes remained simple. At parties he drank ginger ale; he preferred plain food like mashed potatoes and cornbread. Bus Stop (1955) was his last Broadway success, although he won an Academy Award in 1961 with his screenplay for the film Splendor in the Grass. But his next four plays drew increasingly harsh reviews, and, two years after his Off-Off-Broadway play The Last Pad flopped, he killed himself. He was 60.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist May Sarton, (books by this author) born in Wondelgem, Belgium (1912), the daughter of science historian George Sarton and artist Mabel Elwes Sarton. When she was four, her family fled Belgium to escape invading Germans and eventually settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Sarton attended the progressive Shady Hill School and learned poetry from Agnes Hocking.

She graduated from high school, declined a scholarship offer to Vassar, and moved to New York City to be an apprentice at Eva Le Galienne's Civic Repertory Theatre. She moved to Paris when she was 19, then returned to the States and wrote poetry, supporting herself by teaching in Boston, writing film scripts for the Office of War Information, and lecturing on poetry at various college campuses.

Her first book of poems, Encounter in April, came out in 1937 and included a series of sonnets that had been published in Poetry magazine when she was just 17. Over the course of 60 years, she had an incredibly prolific career, publishing about 50 books, including 19 novels, more than a dozen poetry collections, several volumes of journals, and two children's books.

One of her most influential works was Journal of a Solitude (1973), which became important reading for feminists and a primary text in woman's studies courses. Critic Carolyn Heilbrun said, "I would name 1972 as the turning point for modern women's autobiography … the publication of Journal of a Solitude in 1973 may be acknowledged as the watershed in women's autobiography."

Even after a stroke in her mid-70s, she continued to compose and publish; she recorded onto a tape cassette Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992) and dictated Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (1993). In her final book, At Eighty-Two: A Journal (1995), which was published the year she died, she said she felt like a "stranger in the land of old age."

She said, "One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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