May Sarton on aging and love

Last Sunday the New York Times commemorated the 40th anniversary of its OpEd page with a wonderful selection of artwork and excerpts. Titled Lighter with Age, this is by May Sarton, and was published on January 30, 1978, when the poet was 66.

      “Love, we still think, many of us, is for the young. But what do they really know about it? It is hard for them to differentiate between sexual passion and love itself, for instance.
      If the whole of life is a journey toward old age, then I believe it is also a journey towards love. And love may be as intense in old age as if it was in youth, only it is different, set in a wider arc, and the more precious because the time we have to enjoy it is bound to be brief.
      Old age is not a fixed point, and more than sunrise or sunset or the ocean tide.  At every instant the psyche is in flux: ‘And like a newborn spirit did he pass/Through the green evening quiet in the sun,’ as Keats put it.
      On the edge of old age myself I sense that we may be ‘newborn spirits’ at any moment, if we have courage, Old age is not an illness, it is a timeless ascent. As power diminishes, we grow more toward the light.”

Courage seems more within my grasp than newborn spritehood, but I like Sarton’s words, especially the “wider arc” bit. In her journal, At Seventy, she wrote, “I am more myself than I have ever been,” and despite debilitating illness enjoyed another productive decade.

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