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By May Sarton

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.


May Sarton, "The Work of Happiness" from Collected Poems 1930-1993. Copyright © 1993 by May Sarton.  Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc..

Source: Collected Poems 1930-1993 (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993)

Poet Bio

May Sarton
May Sarton was born in Belgium, and immigrated to the US during World War I. She attended one of the country’s first progressive grade schools, and received a scholarship to Vassar, which she declined to pursue acting. After failing as an actress, Sarton dedicated her energy to writing. She received some critical praise initially, but later reviews were often negative and caused her much personal despair. Over many decades, she managed to develop a sizable audience for both her poetry and her prose. In her poetry, she does not hold to any particular subject or form, writing in both free verse and meter, and about topics ranging from her personal love affairs to the student protests at Kent State.

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