Reading: The Work Of Happiness by May Sarton

May Sarton (1912-1995) was a very prolific writer of novels, journals and poetry. She kept reinventing herself and wrote until she was very old. According to literary critics, she is an important contemporary American author. This time, I found a poem she wrote about happiness:

The work of happiness
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.

Happiness growing invisibly, deep inside the bark or taking root underneath the earth. It is a powerful metaphor for the sentiment of the delightfully familiar house that has been the same way for very long, a life’s span indeed. The author speaks about the familiar gods of home, and the work of faith that helps this green and musical tree of happiness grow.

We should not mistake the shining fruit and glittering leaves for the dark happiness that causes them. The long lasting happiness of old dreams that can shake up and stir the present happiness. Living in inwardness charges the air with blessing and ultimately reconcile the house with the outside (the mountains). The walls are kind: To the inward living happy person in the house, who is not afraid anymore and doesn’t need the walls, and to the outside world, that is now fully accepted and blessed.

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