William Stafford

(January 17, 1914 – August 28, 1993 / Kansas)

A Ritual To Read To Each Other


If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
# 188 poem on top 500 Poems


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  • Rookie - 737 Points Paul Reed (2/17/2014 4:51:00 AM)

    Deep, meaningful and open-hearted. How important (and rare) it is to say what we mean. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 48 Points William B. Petricko (1/3/2014 1:21:00 AM)

    Just discovered this gem a couple of days ago and am memorizing it. I hope there is something being done to honour the 100th anniversary of this amazing man's birth (January 17,1914) coming up 2 weeks from now. This has to be one of the most profound poems of our era. As I am memorizing it the more I feel in it. With awe and gratitude for prophets who are awake in our world. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Leslie Kline (4/30/2013 1:13:00 PM)

    I used to know this poem by heart, then lost it for many years. Now re-found; happy. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Luke Debee (2/3/2012 1:41:00 PM)

    I find it interesting how this poet, William Stafford, looks like a drunk bad guy from a generic western film. I'm just stating an obvious opinion. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie E F (8/30/2006 4:25:00 PM)

    It states to me that we know and yet say not what it is we know and leave ourselves marooned and lost. That we may miss our way or be influenced by what others say we should be. That when we awake we stay awake and be lucid and transparent. That we be clear with ourselves and then be clear to those around and stay true to our self, no matter what darkness prevails. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Phillip Sawatzky (3/31/2006 11:49:00 PM)

    One of the truly great poems of all times. The theme of the individual, each individual as integral to the well-being of the community is stated so gently, yet with such power that it makes me shudder deep inside. (Report) Reply

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