What techniques does William Stafford use in order to get across his point of view in his poem "Five A.M."?

1 Answer | Add Yours

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The two primary techniques William Stafford uses to create meaning and express his point of view in the poem "Five A.M." are sensory images and details. This poem captures a peaceful, early moment, as the title suggests; it is a snapshot of the sights, sounds (sensory images), and details of a pre-dawn walk.

In the first stanza, notice the sights and sounds, both explicit and implied, which the speaker encounters on his walk.  

still dark, the early morning breathes
a soft sound above the fire. Hooded
lights on porches lead past lawns,
a hedge; I pass the house of the couple
who have the baby, the yard with the little
dog; my feet pad and grit on the pavement, flicker
past streetlights; my arms alternate
easily to my pace. where are my troubles?

The "morning breathes a soft sound" (probably a slight wind) and he can hear the grit beneath his feet as he walks. The porch lights shine but are not glaring (they are "hooded"), and he sees the streetlights only as a flicker. It is easy to imagine an early-morning-dew scent for the hedge and yard, as well. These sensory images are added to the details of his swinging arms keeping pace with his stride and the family, with a baby and a dog, who are nowhere to be seen at this moment but certainly part of the speaker's memory and experience. The overall effect for him is to ask himself, rhetorically, where his worries (presumably the reason he is out walking this early in the morning) have gone.

The speaker's positive reflections continue in the next stanza as he considers the many things in the world that do not go wrong:

There are people in every country who never
turn into killers, saints have built
sanctuaries on islands and in valleys,
conquerors have quit and gone home, for thousands
of years farmers have worked their fields.

His attitude of tranquility continues with these specific details. While serial killers exist, they are rare (though he has problems, they are not the only thing in his life); saints serve even in isolated places (good can be found anywhere); "conquerors have quit and gone home" (trials do end, often inexplicably); and life and productivity have gone on forever and will continue to do so (despite the problems which inevitably arise).

Finally, in this more tranquil state, the speaker wends his way home.

My feet begin the uphill curve
where a thicket spills with a birds every spring.
the air doesn't stir. Rain touches my face

The sensory images continue: the ache of walking uphill, a thicket of remembered bird sounds, air which does not move, and the feel of rain on his face. In this short walk, the speaker has made peace with himself, and the world rewards him with a refreshing rain. 

Stafford's use of sensory images and details depict this journey from a troubled mind to a soul refreshed and renewed. 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,996 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question