William Stafford

People Talk Themselves Out of Responding

"I can never imagine how someone would fall in love with poetry and stop reading poems. But I think that people often talk themselves out of a bit of responding, which is just as important as collecting."

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, from the 2010 Poets Forum

The Sky
by William Stafford

I like it with nothing. Is it
what I was? What I will be?
I look out there by the hour,
so clear, so sure. I could
smile, or frown—still nothing.

Be my father, be my mother,
great sleep of blue; reach
far within me; open doors,
find whatever is hiding; invite it
for many clear days in the sun.

When I turn away I know
you are there. We won't forget
each other: every look is a promise.
Others can't tell what you say
when it's the blue voice, when
you come to the window and look for me.

Your word arches over
the roof all day. I know it
within my bowed head where
the other sky listens.
You will bring me
everything when the time comes.

This Everything Dance

Rocky Mountain National Park, 2007

"I like to live in the sound of water, in the feel of the mountain air. A sharp reminder hits me: this world still is alive; it stretches out there shivering toward its own creation, and I'm part of it. Even my breathing enters into this elaborate give-and-take, this bowing to sun and moon, day and night, winter, summer, storm, still—this tranquil chaos that seems to be going somewhere. This wilderness with a great peacefulness in it. This motionless turmoil, this everything dance."

~ William Stafford




Being Lost

Cutting Loose
by William Stafford

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose from all else and electing a world where you go
where you want to.

Arbitrary, sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound will tell where it is, and you can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path—but that’s when you get going best, glad to be lost, learning how real it is
here on the earth, again and again.

*     *     *     *     *

See also:

Lost & Found (1/25/11) -- “In this episode, Radiolab steers its way through a series of stories about getting lost, and asks how our brains, and our hearts, help us find our way back home.”


Like a Flame

La vista desde nuestra palapa. (San Augustinillo, Oaxaca, noviembre de 2010)

The Dream of Now
by William Stafford

When you wake to the dream of now
from night and its other dream,
you carry day out of the dark
like a flame.

When spring comes north, and flowers
unfold from earth and its even sleep,
you lift summer on with your breath
lest it be lost ever so deep.

Your life you live by the light you find
and follow it on as well as you can,
carrying through darkness wherever you go
your one little fire that will start again.


Why Stop?

William Stafford quotes from On William Stafford: The Worth of Local Things:

“Poems don’t just happen. They are luckily or stealthily related to a readiness within ourselves. When we read or hear them, we react. We aren’t just supposed to react—any poem that asks for a dutiful response is masquerading as a poem, not being one. A good rule is—don’t respond unless you have to. But when you find you do have a response—trust it. It has a meaning.”

[When asked during an interview, “When did you first realize that you wanted to become a poet?”]

“My question is, ‘When did other people give up the idea of being a poet?’ You know, when we are kids we make up things, we write, and for me the puzzle is not that some people are still writing, the real question is why did other people stop?”

“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir; instead, he engages in an activity that brings to him  a whole succession of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays, laws, philosophies, religions.”


Poetry Everywhere


Let me dream while I’m wide-awake
loose. Let me be drowned, baptized,
in the light given me. Day comes around,
night, fall, winter, spring,
summer. Leaves overhead, underfoot.
Waves arrive, buffets from friends
offended, enemies. Let it all come:
that is my way, this is the canoe I’m in.

By William Stafford, from The Answers Are Inside the Mountain: Meditations on the Writing Life


Everyone’s Dream

Being a Person
by William Stafford

Be a person here. Stand by the river, invoke
the owls. Invoke winter, then spring.
Let any season that wants to come here make its own
call. After that sound goes away, wait.

A slow bubble rises through the earth
and begins to include sky, stars, all space,
even the outracing, expanding thought.
Come back and hear the little sound again.

Suddenly this dream you are having matches
everyone's dream, and the result is the world.
If a different call came there wouldn't be any
world, or you, or the river, or the owls calling.

How you stand here is important. How you
listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe.

To Create the News of Our Common Life

From Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace and War, edited and with an introduction by Kim Stafford:

Every War Has Two Losers All his life William Stafford was witness for a comprehensive view. He believed in the fragile but essential community of the world, and he wrote on behalf of what he called “the unknown good in our enemies.” In his view, such a life of witness was both compassionate and profoundly practical—in the long term, wars simply don’t work as well as reconciliation. So every day of his life, from those years in World War II until his death in 1993, William Stafford would rise before first light to remember, to ponder, and to write—often writing about peace and reconciliation.

It would be difficult to overestimate the unusual importance of William Stafford’s daily writing practice. Most of us read or hear the daily news, beginning each day with a dose of another person’s truth. My father had a different way: to create the news of our common life by writing your own. This act is true freedom and constructive citizenship. It is available to all of us.

21 February 1951
To hold the voice down and the eyes up when facing someone who antagonizes you is a slight weight—once. But in a lifetime it adds up to tons.

19 May 1963
One must learn to waver.

4 April 1966
One should talk to people, not to “nations,” or “classes,” or “professions,” etc.

22 September 1967
Those who champion democracy, but also make a fetish of never accepting anything they don’t agree with—what advantage do they see in democracy?

25 September 1969
Tyrants depend on helpers.

12 September 1981
The wind you walk against but do not feel is ignorance. Your foolish face has happiness on one side, but the world pressed on the other.

16 September 1981
Winners can lose what winning was for.

14 October 1982
I don’t like to hear from victims. At one remove they remind me of oppressors. And I don’t like oppressors. Oppressors have become the way they are through damaging conditions. Like victims. I want to turn and start over again. As for myself, I don’t want to be an oppressor, nor be like a victim. There are probably ways to live so as to shut out chances to be victimized. Those ways are probably worse than being a victim.

Wherever You Go

You Reading This, Be Ready
by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

[Thanks JC!]