Here is a glass of water from my well.

It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain;

It is the best I have, my only spell,

And it is cold, and better than champagne.

Perhaps someone will pass this house one day

To drink, and be restored, and go his way,

Someone in dark confusion as I was

When I drank down cold water in a glass,

Drank a transparent health to keep me sane,

After the bitter mood had gone again.


-May Sarton


I first drank from May Sarton’s well in l971, when my mother gave me Sarton’s memoir, Plant Dreaming Deep. There are now forty-nine volumes of her work in my personal library. Most are dog-eared, especially the memoirs, journals and poetry. An index card file box is stuffed with quotations.

The intimate style of her journals made me feel like her personal friend, even before I had the remarkable good fortune of actually becoming one. I would often find myself carrying on an imaginary conversation with her. The occasions when I was able to talk with her in person were always memorable.

Among Sarton’s friends were literary greats, aspiring writers, students, artists, theater people, gardeners, photographers and ordinary people. I am in the latter two categories. She was a muse to my creative photography and a guru for my self.

In 1980 my friend, Anne Alvord, invited me to join her in giving a talk on May Sarton’s work for a program at our town’s public library. Our audience’s enthusiastic response led us to write to Sarton, and also brought us more invitations to speak. As we prepared for our presentations, more correspondence emerged.

I found her imagery, particularly in her poetry, an inspiration when creating photographs and discovered that many I had already made related to pieces of her writing. So, my part in those lectures was as a photographer, showing projected slides, which reflected on the work Anne and I discussed.

I also began to prepare an exhibit of my prints that I paired with Sarton poems and quotations. When I wrote to her about my plans for such an exhibit, she invited me to bring my photographs to her home so we could discuss them. That was in 1983-the beginning of our friendship. As my collection of quotes grew and the exhibition became a reality, a dream of doing a book began to crystallize. May’s encouragement spurred me on.

In reading and rereading Sarton’s books I found her influence on my life deepening. She helped me understand the struggle between my creative needs and the demands of my identities as a mother, wife and member of the human race. At the end of the eloquent film, “World of Light: A Portrait of May Sarton”, (which was later made into the book May Sarton–A Self- Portrait) May is asked what she wants most to be remembered for. She answers, “For being fully human”.

Sarton’s humanity, full of strength and some foibles, sharing joys and sorrows, resonates through her writing. In selecting only some of her poems and excerpts of her prose I feel the weight of tremendous responsibility. I have chosen pieces of her work which have great meaning to me. Every person would make different selections. Though it is possible that in pulling a quotation out of its original context, its meaning might seem to change, I believe the truth of her words remains. I like to think that many readers who were not previously familiar with Sarton’s work will want to delve into the original source after finishing this volume.

For the framework of my book, I have chosen a quotation that Sarton herself used as the theme for some of her poetry readings: “The delights of the poet, as I jotted them down, turned out to be light, solitude, the natural world, love, time, creation itself.” Each of these delights forms a section of this book. The Afterword contains some of my pictures of, and thoughts about, the poet and her home in Maine.

I think of my photographs as an accompaniment to May’s prose and poetry, as a piano is to a lyric singer- sometimes in unison, often in harmony, occasionally in counterpoint. Generally I have paired my photographs with May’s prose, separating the images from the poems so that the poetry may stand on its own as a point of departure for the reader’s musings.

Sarton wrote that the water from her well “tastes of rock and root and earth and rain”. Although she did not think of herself as a “nature poet”, she derived much enjoyment, inspiration as well as many metaphors from the natural world. Thus it seems right to me that the majority of my photographs contain images from nature, even when Sarton was speaking about people.

I hope that you will “drink and be restored” by my photographs and Sarton’s words, and share in my belief that we humans are the one species of animal which controls the fate of our fragile planet, so we bear the responsibility to cherish and care for it.

— Edith Royce Schade