William Edgar Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914, to Ruby Mayher and Earl Ingersoll Stafford. The eldest of three children, Stafford grew up with an appreciation for nature and books.
During the Depression the family moved from town to town as Earl Stafford searched for jobs. William helped to support the family also, by delivering papers, working in the sugar beet fields, raising vegetables, and as an electrician's mate. In 1933 Stafford graduated from high school in Liberal, Kansas, and attended Garden City and El Dorado junior colleges, graduating from the University of Kansas in 1937. In 1939 Stafford enrolled at the University of Wisconsin to begin ... more »
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William Stafford Poems
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.
Traveling Through The Dark
Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into
Notice What This Poem Is Not Doing
The light along the hills in the morning comes down slowly, naming the trees white, then coasting the ground for stones to nominate.
Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window. No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held for awhile. Some dove somewhere.
For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid
There is a country to cross you will find in the corner of your eye, in the quick slip of your foot--air far down, a snap that might have caught.
When I Met My Muse
I glanced at her and took my glasses off--they were still singing. They buzzed like a locust on the coffee table and then ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
In line at lunch I cross my fork and spoon to ward off complicity--the ordered life our leaders have offered us. Thin as a knife, our chance to live depends on such a sign
It is time for all the heroes to go home if they have any, time for all of us common ones to locate ourselves by the real things we live by.
Day after day up there beating my wings with all the softness truth requires I feel them shrug whenever I pause: they class my voice among tentative things,
1 Sometimes in the open you look up where birds go by, or just nothing, and wait. A dim feeling comes
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
My family slept those level miles but like a bell rung deep till dawn I drove down an aisle of sound, nothing real but in the bell,
Tomorrow will have an island. Before night I always find it. Then on to the next island. These places hidden in the day separate and come forward if you beckon.
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
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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...