I just returned from New Hampshire where my daughter was recently married. The site of the wedding was Granite Lake in Nelson, not far from where May Sarton spent a good fifteen years of her adult life and although she didn’t die there, it was her wish to be buried in this small town, in the only place she ever owned a home.

One afternoon, on break from wedding preparations, my son, Keegan, and I drove around Nelson in search of the cemetery, which in such a small town could only be situated in one of a few places. Our second attempt to find it proved successful.

We drove through the stone gates and into a classic New England cemetery, tucked on a hillside, surrounded by forests. It isn’t a huge space, but big enough for one to need to search for a particular grave, even one that seems it should stand out. May’s marker is a phoenix, commissioned and sculpted by her friend Barbara Barton, and presented to May in 1976, almost twenty years before her death. Although not designed as such, early on May was determined that it was to be her grave marker.

My son spotted it first, a more delicate stone among the traditional slabs of slate and granite. I approached, drawn by the yearning image of the phoenix and the flickering of the flat flames.

The phoenix “was May’s chosen symbol: the ardent spirit rising again and again from the ashes of defeat,” explains Margot Peters in her biography of May Sarton. Of this prized sculpture, May herself remarked, “it does just what I wanted, gives a sense of an uprush of flight” (316).

I hope May’s spirit feels this uprush of flight on this sloping hill that looks outward and upward, in the company of many of her former Nelson neighbors and friends. It’s a peaceful spot, soft with green moss that will soon be layered with colorful leaves and before long blanketed in a pure white.

May felt the seasons, nature’s and those that cycled through her veins. Hers was a love-hate, a hot-cold, a light-dark existence, cycles of extremes that she struggled to understand and tame, never too successfully. The closest she came was through her art: her poetry, novels and journals. I love that she’s buried here, her ashes part of the rugged New Hampshire soil that is also difficult to tame.

When I first read this poem of May’s, it sent a shiver down my spine:

 

 

The Phoenix Again

On the ashes of this nest

Love wove with deathly fire

The phoenix takes its rest

Forgetting all desire.

 

After the flame, a pause,

After the pain, rebirth.

Obeying nature’s laws

The phoenix goes to earth.

 

You cannot call it old

You cannot call it young.

No phoenix can be told,

This is the end of the song.

 

It struggles now along

Against death and self-doubt,

But underneath the bone

The wings are pushing out.

And one cold starry night

Whatever your belief

The phoenix will take flight

Over the seas of grief.

 

To sing her thrilling song

To stars and waves and sky

For neither old nor young

The phoenix does not die.

When I return to visit my daughter and son-in-law in their new home in nearby Harrisville, I will deliver flowers to May’s special spot on the hill. She so cherished flowers, those growing free in her yard as well as those she arranged in vases to adorn her home.

Rest here in peace, as best you can, May. For indeed, the phoenix does not die.

Check out my recent post about #Nasty Woman Writer, May Sarton here.

©Maria Dintino 2019

Works Cited:

Peters, Margot. May Sarton: a Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.