the life-changing poetry of William Stafford

/ 13 September 2014 /
I once chanced upon a Tumblr blog called "You Reading This... Be Ready" and was so taken by its blog name that I googled it to see if it was a reference to something. And what a something the reference turned out to be. It was a poem by William Stafford, an American poet whose works are described as pacifist.

Like many poets, Stafford wrote about a spectrum of themes, including the western US and the environment. But the poems that captured me most are his grand explorations of personal concepts such identity, human potential, and the future. Using everyday words, these poems have built for me wide-open windows into my self, with visions so magnificent, I can't help but be inspired.

Here, my five favorites from William Stafford:

You, Reading This, Be Ready

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?


Scars

They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.

Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing.

Rows of children lift their faces of promise,

places where the scars will be.


Assurance

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightning before it says
its names – and then the clouds’ wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, and Amazon,
long aisles – you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head –
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.

The whole wide world pours down.


Waking at 3 a.m.

Even in the cave of the night when you
wake and are free and lonely,
neglected by others, discarded, loved only
by what doesn't matter--even in that
big room no one can see,
you push with your eyes till forever
comes in its twisted figure eight
and lies down in your head.

You think water in the river;
you think slower than the tide in
the grain of the wood; you become
a secret storehouse that saves the country,
so open and foolish and empty.

You look over all that the darkness
ripples across. More than has ever
been found comforts you. You open your
eyes in a vault that unlocks as fast
and as far as your thought can run.
A great snug wall goes around everything,
has always been there, will always
remain. It is a good world to be
lost in. It comforts you. It is
all right. And you sleep.




A Story That Could Be True

If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.

He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by –
you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really, wanderer?”—
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I'm a king.”

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This blog is going to be weird or irreverent or relatable, depending on who you are and who I am being. I give my best hello to 'outcasts' like me who may or may not like this blog: HELLO!
 
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