For the Grave of Daniel Boone

by William Stafford

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

Even this relatively early poem of Stafford’s foreshadows themes that are characteristic of his work. Noteworthy here is his typical concern with external nature and Boone’s intimate association with it. The crucial connection between human experience and the earth itself is an integral part of Stafford’s writing, as it was in his own life. Like Wordsworth before him, he seemed to believe that in many ways nature is a beneficent and moral teacher. As a Westerner and environmentalist, he was thus concerned with the modern dissociation of human beings from the natural world. Like many poets from the American West, Stafford wrote with a sense of place, which here is the landscape familiar to Boone. (Other poems may be set on a Kansas farm, in the small towns of Stafford’s boyhood, or even in an Oregon blackberry patch.)

Those critics who charge that he is a Western (and therefore regional) poet tend to minimize the significance of his work, for what is regional must necessarily be specific and particular, and as Stafford noted, “All particulars reflect something.The job in writing is the repeated encounter with particulars.” While Boone’s search for a “deepening home” may indeed have regional overtones, it embodies a universal desire. What is regional is also universal. A corollary theme is his sense of the past, of an earlier time and world not too different from now. In Stafford’s poetry the past is always real, yet often transfigured (flowers spread all over the floor) and with a hint of nostalgia.

Obviously, this lyric poem is a personal response to a visit to Boone’s grave. Stafford believes, with Wordsworth, that art is born out of emotion and that he must trust in emotion to lead him through the creation of a poem. As he indicated in another interview, “For me, writingis a process of relying on immediate pervasive feelings, not an escape from them.” “For the Grave of Daniel Boone” emphasizes not so much the man’s life or death as his effect on the lives of those who come after him. Stafford’s poem honors Boone, who enlarged American experience as well as the frontier and who now continues as a sort of spiritual guide to the young. The children and the pathfinder remain connected to each other and to the natural world. Boone’s legacy is their love of and familiarity with nature. The poem demonstrates an awareness that the world changes while there is still continuity. The past informs the present, and nature informs humanity.

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