Poetry Friday: Celebrating William Stafford


Every January, I celebrate the fabulous work of a William Stafford. Born on January 17, 1914, it’s a centennial celebration. There is so many events here in Oregon. For today’s poem, I’m sharing

A Message from the Wanderer

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

William Stafford, “A Message from the Wanderer” from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, http://www.graywolfpress.org.

You can listen to it at The Poetry Foundation

Next Wednesday, I will share a conversation between Helen Frost and I about William Stafford. Then next Friday, on his birthday, Helen is sharing her poem from the new anthology, A Ritual to Read To Each Other: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford in honor of the centenary of his birth.

Poetry Friday is hosted at Mainely Write today. thanks, Donna.


8 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Celebrating William Stafford

  1. That poem! I’m gob-smacked. I actually have a little bit of William Stafford in my post today. Looking forward to the birthday celebrations!

  2. Wow, I love William Stafford’s work, have been reading his son Kim’s book about writing-so wonderful. Plus, I just chose ‘wander’ as my OLW. Amazing the connections one makes when just moving through life. Thank you, Jone, & I’m looking forward to all the rest of your plans, too!

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