Posts Tagged ‘William Stafford’

I have always been a huge fan of American poetry. The reason for that – the long scenic route version – is this. American prose writers have always strived to be accessible to the general reader. What this meant was this – American writers have always tried using language that could be understood by a normal person, avoiding complex words, long sentences and long philosophical ruminations. Instead they have focussed on short sentences, everyday words, plot, character building, great dialogue. This is how American fiction writers worked for decades. There were exceptions, of course, and these days things seem to be changing, but to make things intelligible for the largest number of readers was always the goal. American poets had very similar aims – to bring poetry to the largest group of readers. So, American poets wrote on themes that readers could identify with, and used everyday vocabulary to compose their poems. No complex words, no references to Greek or Roman mythology or some ancient civilizations, no vague sentences where we can understand the meaning of individual words, but we can’t understand the meaning of the sentence. But poems, by nature, demand the presence of beauty – beauty in thought, beauty in ideas, beauty in feelings, beauty in words. Because of this, American poets composed poems on accessible themes, using everyday words and sentences, which were also poetic and beautiful. For example, read this poem called ‘Separation‘ by W.S.Merwin.

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Simple words, simple language, identifiable theme, but incredibly beautiful, isn’t it? American poets did this again and again – create beauty with everyday words and simple ideas – that I fell in love with them. So, when one of my favourite friends sent me the poetry collection ‘Ask Me‘ by William Stafford, I was very excited. I haven’t heard of William Stafford before and so I couldn’t wait to read his poems.


This book has a selection of one hundred poems by William Stafford, selected by his son Kim Stafford. It doesn’t seem to be necessarily organized by theme, but I found that sometimes poems which are next to each other are on a similar theme like war (or anti-war rather), nature etc. There is an introduction at the beginning of the book by Kim Stafford which is very beautiful.

On the poems in the book, there is nothing much to say, other than the fact that I loved them. I loved every one of them and I loved the whole book. Of course, I loved some poems more than others. William Stafford is now my newest favourite poet and I am so happy about that. With respect to poetry, I am a firm believer in the old adage, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating it’. So, instead of writing about what I think about Stafford’s poems, I will share some of my favourites here. You can read them yourself and make up your mind on whether you like them or not.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune

Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed :
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self —
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

Passing Remark

In scenery I like flat country.
In life I don’t like much to happen.

In personalities I like mild colorless people.
And in colors I prefer gray and brown.

My wife, a vivid girl from the mountains,
says, “Then why did you choose me?”

Mildly I lower my brown eyes —
there are so many things admirable people do not understand.

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

I loved William Stafford’sAsk Me‘. It is one of my favourite poetry collections ever. I can’t wait to read more poems by him.

Have you read William Stafford’sAsk Me‘ or other poems by him? What do you think of his poems? Did you like the above poems?

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