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(1912-1995 / Belgium)

Biography of May Sarton

May Sarton poet

May Sarton is the pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton (May 3, 1912 – July 16, 1995), an American poet, novelist, and memoirist.

Sarton was born in Wondelgem, Belgium (today a part of the city of Ghent). Her parents were science historian George Sarton and his wife, the English artist Mabel Eleanor Elwes. When German troops invaded Belgium after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, her family fled to Ipswich, England where Sarton's maternal grandmother lived. One year later, they moved to Boston, Massachusetts. She went to school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduating from Cambridge High and Latin School in 1929. She started theatre lessons in her late teens, but continued writing poetry, eventually publishing her first collection in 1937 entitled Encounter in April.

In 1945 she met her partner for the next thirteen years, Judy Matlack, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They separated in 1956, when Sarton's father died and Sarton moved to Nelson, New Hampshire. Honey in the Hive (1988) is about their relationship. In her memoir At Seventy, she reflected on Judy's importance in her life and how her Unitarian Universalist upbringing shaped her.

Sarton later moved to York, Maine. In 1990, she suffered a stroke, severely reducing her ability to concentrate and write. After several months, she was able to dictate her final journals, which celebrated the joys of her life. She died of breast cancer on July 16, 1995, and is buried in Nelson, New Hampshire.

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.

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