Wednesday, 1 August 2012

On Discovering William Stafford

This morning I woke to a bright blue sky. I rose, dressed, and walked to work with the intention of watching the London 2012 Olympics. Instead, I stumbled upon an NPR interview with the American poet William Stafford from the exceptional All Things Considered series.

On such incidents are lives enhanced.

William Stafford was born in Kansas in 1914, and grew into a pacifist - one, he said, of the "quiet of the land" - and a plainspoken poet. As a pacifist, he spent the years 1942-46 working in outdoor camps and projects for conscientious objectors in Arkansas, California and Illinois.His poetry, from what I've read, is reflective, gentle, and unassuming yet with a startling, simple poignancy. It focuses on the natural world, its rhythms and flows and on quietly turning the tables on common perceptions of life around us. Ultimately, a strong pacifism run throughout.

I've since spent an hour reading his work and am blown away. I've found a new friend who I hope will remain a friend for life.

Here are some of those that have particularly struck a chord. I hope you enjoy them.

'For the Unknown Enemy'
By William Stafford

This monument is for the unknown
good in our enemies. Like a picture
their life began to appear: they
gathered at home in the evening
and sang. Above their fields they saw
a new sky. A holiday came
and they carried the baby to the park
for a party. Sunlight surrounded them.

Here we glimpse what our minds long turned
away from. The great mutual
blindness darkened that sunlight in the park,
and the sky that was new, and the holidays.
This monument says that one afternoon
we stood here letting a part of our minds
escape. They came back, but different.
Enemy: one day we glimpsed your life.

This monument is for you.

'At the Bomb Testing Site'
By William E. Stafford

At noon in the desert a panting lizard  
waited for history, its elbows tense,  
watching the curve of a particular road  
as if something might happen.

It was looking at something farther off  
than people could see, an important scene  
acted in stone for little selves
at the flute end of consequences.

There was just a continent without much on it  
under a sky that never cared less.  
Ready for a change, the elbows waited.  
The hands gripped hard on the desert.

'At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border'
By William E. Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

You can read more poems by William Stafford at the William Stafford Reader:

1 comment:

Shelley said...

That face says it all: equal parts perceptiveness, kindness, and intelligence.