William Stafford

Today’s new poet (to me) is William Stafford and he's from Kansas! He was born in Hutchinson, KS, which is north of Wichita on the way to Denver (sorta) if you go up I-35 and take a left on Route 50. He also went to KU (yes, we know, a bas les Jayhawk), but lost no time, it would appear, in skittering out of there into Oregon. He died at Lake Oswego at the ripe old age of 79. Take a minute to look at these 17 poems by William Stafford.

Very wholesome and calm and Midwestern. Full of abstractions, which is what us apprentice poet-wannabes are always being beaten up about using, but I guess it’s OK in the hands of a master. Very nice reading, and don’t be fooled by the apparent ease of read. As poets.org says: “Stafford's poems are often deceptively simple. Like Robert Frost's, however, they reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination.”  Here is the one I liked best of those encountered so far:  

Lit Instructor

by William Stafford

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,


And they credit fact, force, battering.

I dance my way toward the family of knowing,

embracing stray error as a long-lost boy

and bringing him home with my fluttering.


Every quick feather asserts a just claim;

it bites like a saw into white pine.

I communicate right; but explain to the dean—

well, Right has a long and intricate name.


And the saying of it is a lonely thing.

Nice. Had something of a problem scanning the tetrameter in S2, but imagine he was going for that effect.

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

One thought on “William Stafford”

  1. English is my second language.I think it’s all about teaching and learning but I don’t really understand symbols used in the poem eg ‘they’ who’s they? or ‘Every quick feather asserts a just claim.’ Could you pls explain me ?

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