friday feast: happiness is a may sarton poem and a cream scone

The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room . . . “ ~ May Sarton

When it’s cold and snowy out, there’s nothing better than treating yourself to a little cream tea.

I like to split a warm scone, spread on some strawberry jam and clotted cream, and sip a nice cup of Yorkshire Gold.

Gone are the winter blues, and I’m quite content to while away the hours reading, writing, thinking. I’m safe and warm in a room I’ve filled with some of my favorite things: a copper teapot, Dickens books from Foyles in London, a dozen antique teddy bears, an English phone booth, an Addams Family “Thing” bank, a kazoo, and a bone china bouquet of violets (one broken).

On days like these, it’s nice to read a poem about cultivating happiness. Like May Sarton, I think it grows in the quiet recesses of the mind, deeply rooted in the comfortable rooms we’ve made for ourselves, reassuring and familiar.

A writer’s work is inward work, fueled by faith and hope. These walls have heard hundreds of interior monologues reflecting the struggle to overcome self-doubt and to balance solitude with society. I wish you a quiet place and the time you need to nourish your creative spirit. I wouldn’t trade my little haven for anything.

(Special thanks to Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm for reminding me about this poem.)

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“House in Uspensky” by Boris Kustodiev, 1908 (click to enlarge)

THE WORK OF HAPPINESS
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 lifespan 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.

~ from The Lion and the Rose (1948)

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PASS THE SCONES!

This lovely recipe, adapted from the one created by America’s Test Kitchen, reminds me of the scones I used to eat in Wimbledon. Dress it up by adding fruit or nuts if you like, but I passed on the currants because I didn’t want anything to detract from the jam and clotted cream.

The secret to getting a tender crumb and a good rise is to handle the dough as little as possible. I used my food processor to incorporate the butter with the flour mixture, though I know some people like to use their pastry blenders or fingers. You can either cut the dough into wedges or use a round biscuit cutter. I brushed a little milk and sprinkled sugar on the tops just before baking to give them a nice brown sheen.

They were so, so good, and held up well the next day wrapped in foil and warmed up in my toaster oven. I wonder if May Sarton had scones with mentor and friend Virginia Woolf — they always had tea together whenever May visited England. Both cherished rooms of their own.

CREAM SCONES

(makes 8)

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cups currants (optional)
  • 1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in large bowl or workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Whisk together or pulse six times.

3. If making by hand, use two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingertips and quickly cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps. Stir in currants. If using food processor, remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times, each pulse lasting 1 second. Add currants and pulse one more time. Transfer dough to large bowl.

4. Stir in heavy cream with rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

5. Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Pat into a circle about 3/4″ high and cut scones into 8 wedges (or use a round biscuit cutter). Place wedges (or rounds) on ungreased baking sheet.

6. Brush tops with milk or cream and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake until the tops are light brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: Dough wedges or rounds may be placed on baking sheet, wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 hours.

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BTW, how do you pronounce “scone”?

I asked the maid in dulcet tone
To order me a buttered scone
The silly girl has been and gone
And ordered me a buttered scone.

I love them either way.🙂

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poetryfriday180Anastasia Suen is hosting this week’s Roundup at Poet! Poet! Take her a scone and enjoy all the poetic goodies being served up in the blogosphere. You can see all the links at a newly created Pinterest Board!

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ~ May Sarton

“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” ~ Virginia Woolf

*scone with the wind*🙂

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

66 thoughts on “friday feast: happiness is a may sarton poem and a cream scone

  1. Jama, one thing I miss about our annual visits to the UK when I was a child is cream tea. Stopping in the mid-afternoon for tea and quiet conversation fits Sarton’s idea of living in inwardness, slowing down, paying attention. Plus, delicious!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Tabatha. I’ve got such a long ways to go with photography; it’s something I enjoy learning about and practicing, and it gives me the chance to document my baking adventures.

      No, I’ve never made my own clotted cream; I bet it’s really delicious. For now, we settle for the Devonshire cream from Whole Foods.🙂

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  2. You always fill me up with warmth, Jama. This is lovely, the poem, the photos, that lovely painting. Nothing nice than afternoon tea at home. “A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall”. Thank you!

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    1. Everyday I am thankful for the sanctuary of home and the simple pleasures it affords. This painting caught my eye because I have a small library cabinet about the same size as the bookcase pictured. Mine has some open shelves at the top with glass doors on the bottom.

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    1. Hi Sharon! I think this is probably my favorite Sarton poem. It makes me want to reread Journal of a Solitude, curled up in my favorite chair.🙂

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  3. Your world is so dreamy, Jama. I love taking time out to come and visit for a spell. Enjoy the scones❤ I may try baking them this weekend🙂

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    1. Hi Julia! I have to escape into my “dream world” so I don’t have to think about how cold it is outside. Scones and tea help me to be less grumpy🙂.

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  4. I appreciate how this poem is calm and reassuring. And it fits so well with the rest of the mood you’ve painted here. Loved your opening quote too. But Jama, please promise me that you’ll feature a picture of your “Thing” bank in a future post? That, I’ve got to see to believe.

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    1. I’ll try to post it — but I don’t think you’ll be able to see Thing itself — when you put a coin in the slot, his hand quickly comes out to snatch the coin. Don’t know if I could get a photo of that. Otherwise, the bank itself is just a black plastic box.

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  5. I love the colors in your photos. They are like a valentine to home–perfect for the culmination of February. The poem is lovely. I like the notion that happiness is a creation, and the image of the moving air stirring old dreams.

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  6. We’ve gone and made scones ourselves this morning, Jama-j. What a great bite with which to start this dreary, rainy Friday. (I am not actually complaining about that which gives me the Excuse I’ve been waiting for to bake and have tea.) I’ve been experimenting with almond meal flour for fewer carbs, and a lovely marmalade – good old Mackay’s, of course – balances it all out. So delicious!

    That poem is just – wow. I’m forever hauling around furniture and changing things, but in the stillness – a room which has sat as it has for so long – and the gods of the home — LOVE that. I shall leave things to sit longer, I think, and imagine the warm air currents wafting about dreams…

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    1. Oh, we’re on the same wave length! Haven’t had any Mackay’s marmalade. Will have to look for some. The Paddingtons will be ecstatic about it.

      Haven’t baked with almond meal flour. I do like the taste of almonds, so maybe I’ll have to give it a try — much as I love to bake, it would be nice to have fewer carbs to worry about.

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  7. Hello Jama – new reader here – what fun to start with May Sarton (reminder of how much I did enjoy those journals) and VW the very best. I have to say that your hot tea hotties are terrific fun (I”m sure you know) – thank you!

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    1. Hi Katy,

      So nice of you to drop by and comment. Look forward to reading your blog — I see you’re a DA fan too🙂. I have to warn you to put on your oven mitts — more hotTEAS of the week are coming soon!

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  8. Stop, you’re torturing me! I just got home from work, not quite ready for dinner, and then I saw your scones. My mouth is watering as I write and there’s not a cream scone for miles around!

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  9. I just begged my husband (with puppy-dog-eye-pleading-look-and-clasped-hands) to pleasepleaseplease do this for me. I don’t think it worked.🙂 These are my favorite lines from May Sarton’s poem that you shared:

    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.

    I wanted to cut it short, but I couldn’t remove the imagery of books and happiness being “woven out of the peace of hours.”

    I just celebrated 2 hours of me-time last night with yoga and meditation. What a gift.🙂

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    1. Who could resist puppy dog eyes? Maybe he’ll surprise you this weekend.🙂

      Nice to hear you’re finding the time to refresh, relax, and rejuvenate.🙂

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  10. SIgh…Thank you for this moment of bliss…and for reminding me that I can find them wherever I look and whenever I want!

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    1. Yes, we have to make the best of where we are and what we have. Even small stolen moments of quiet and reflection can make a big difference.

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    1. The poem is my favorite by May Sarton. Scones were delish, but not something to eat every week with all that butter, heavy cream and clotted cream. Only for special occasions. I loved playing with dishes when I was little and have never outgrown it.

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    1. They do hit the spot on a winter’s day. I hear New England is in for another 18-22 inches Monday morning? This winter just won’t quit.

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  11. I love the post and the poem. So happy to have a few days off for Carnival here, and looking forward to a little bit of silence here and there.

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  12. I want a scone! Your pictures and words are perfect. I was so surprised to see my blog mentioned. thanks. It is such a nice poem. I’m going to copy out the recipe and make the scones, and soon!!

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    1. It was nice to discover that you had shared this poem at your blog. It was just what I needed that day, and I thought it definitely needed to be shared here, too. Hope you like the scones!

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