Wednesday, July 13, 2016


In her introduction to The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, a wonderful collection of the poems of William Stafford, poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes:  "In our time there has been no poet who revived hearts and spirits more convincingly that William Stafford.  There has been no one who gave more courage to a journey with words, and silence, and an awakening life."

Having just spent a couple of weeks of reading or re-reading Stafford's work each day, I find myself in complete agreement with Nye's praise.  Stafford's poetry brings both beauty and insight to the ordinary experiences that occur in daily life, and it always reminds us of something ineffably sublime that lies beyond the words of even a poet.

While I have many favorites, the Stafford poem that I keep returning to is the haunting but optimistic title poem, "The Way It Is."  Written just twenty-six days before Stafford died in 1993, it speaks — hopefully, I believe — of the need to remain grounded in something meaningful that will not betray us as we pass through our transitory lives, encountering loss, self-doubt, and suffering along the way.  Every sentence in this poem rings true to me.

                                                  The Way It Is
                                               by William Stafford

                           There's a thread you follow.  It goes among
                           things that change.  But it doesn't change.
                           People wonder about what you are pursuing.
                           You have to explain about the thread.
                           But it is hard for others to see.
                           While you hold it you can't get lost.
                           Tragedies happen; people get hurt
                           or die; and you suffer and get old.
                           Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
                           You don't ever let go of the thread.


  1. I have not heard of this poet George, but again you have found me a poet to investigate and perhaps read something by him at our next Poetry meeting.

    1. Thanks, Pat. Stafford was a prolific and much-loved American poet who produced more than 20,000 poems during his lifetime. He was Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress (essentially the Poet Laureate of the United States) in the early seventies. If you are interested in his work, I would recommend the collections shown in the photo at the top of this posting, ASK ME: 100 ESSENTIAL POEMS and THE WAY IT IS: NEW & SELECTED POEMS.

  2. I follow this life-saving thread, and am glad of it, though it gets a little ragged at times.

    1. Yes, I know you have always followed this life-saving thread, Robert, and your life, I suspect, has been all the better for it. My thread also gets a little ragged from time to time, but I hold on to it through thick and thin, knowing that there is simply no other way to have a meaningful and authentic life.

  3. Stafford is among my very favorite poets ... he inspired me not just as a writer but as a person navigating through this world. So many wonderful poems ... I once had a vivid dream of him sitting in an easy chair, reading to me by lamplight ... his soul is in every poem.

    1. Great to hear from you, Teresa. Stafford is also one of my favorite poets, and I agree that his poems help us to navigate through this uncertain world. You're right — his soul can be found in every poem.