William Stafford

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William (Edgar) Stafford 1914–

American poet, essayist, and editor.

Stafford is one of America's most accomplished contemporary poets. His writing is marked by a mature vision and by the calm manner in which he probes beneath the surface of everyday life "to find," in his words, "what the world is trying to be." Stafford was born and raised in Kansas and has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1948; the dramatic simplicity of the landscape of these regions often provides the material from which his images are formed. Critics occasionally note that his poetry has changed little since his first volume, West of Your City (1960). Samuel Hazo remarks: "Like a good tree of the northwest, Stafford has grown in place."

Stafford's second collection, Traveling Through the Dark (1962), received a National Book Award. The title of this collection suggests what Roberta Berke calls Stafford's "journey to the interior: both to the interior of [his] native America and to the primitive [interior of his own mind]."

Stories That Could Be True (1977) contains new poems and gathers together poems from Stafford's previous volumes including West of Your City, Traveling Through the Dark, The Rescued Year (1966), Allegiances (1970), and Someday, Maybe (1973). Central to all of these works is Stafford's preoccupation with the past, his exploration of the conflict between technological society and human spirituality, and his Whitmanesque quest for unity. Stafford's own childhood figures prominently, as do his political and social concerns.

Stafford's recent collection, A Glass Face in the Rain (1982), is written with the same attention to the natural cadences of language and directness of approach that have marked his writing throughout his career. Stafford's mode varies from more conventional verse dependent on rhyme to informal poems with lines which read almost like prose, but always the poems are unadorned and infused with a clarity composed of quietness and strength. Critics sometimes find fault with Stafford's understated manner, noting that his simple, calm approach, when unsuccessful, falls flat. When Stafford's poems succeed, however, most critics are impressed with the power and serenity of his subdued poetic voice.

(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 5; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 5.)

Linda W. Wagner

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When William Stafford's poems took the literati by surprise in the early sixties, they did so for a variety of reasons. In an op-pop culture, with relativism more than rampant, Stafford dared to suggest moral judgments. People were good—or bad—because of their actions, and his "Bess," Ella, and Sublette met that judgment head-on. So did his craft…. Stafford had written poems for a long time; his craft was no accident. The use of homey language and idiom, the running sentence rhythms and casual throw-away lines, the recurrence of Midwestern locations and characters were all an integral part of the plain-style. Unquestionably like Walt Whitman's, especially in some early poems, the voice has in recent writing changed only slightly.

Sentence rhythm is one of the most visible characteristics of Stafford's poetry…. The continuing rhythm, phrase piled on clause; commas used to connect elements rather than separating punctuation to isolate—the poet consciously keeps momentum going in a poem until he chooses to stop it, often abruptly, for impact. (pp. 140-41)

Rather than having one uniform line or sentence length, Stafford is at his best in many poems by using the prose tactic of contrasting longer sentences with short ones. The somewhat rambling sentences … are often followed with short, emphatic statements. The rhetorical method of alternating sentence length appears to good effect in poems like "The Last Day," "At the Grave of My Brother," "Remember," "On Quitting a Little...

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College," "The Peters Family," and "Some Autumn Characters." (p. 142)

Other devices that the poet uses frequently in achieving the effect of speech rhythms are the inclusion of dialogue and of broken sentence patterns…. His use of dialogue is surprisingly sparse, considering its long tradition in modern American poetry (Pound, Williams, Gregory, Frost, Eliot, MacLeish); when he does use it, however, it is often as a conclusion…. Stafford's use of dialogue, or actual speech fragments, parallels his alternation of long and short sentences. He appears to use them as contrast, to vary texture, to add the telling image to a line of conventional and sometimes less colorful description. The use of dialogue also permits even more inclusion of idiomatic speech patterns.

Although a good part of the impact of the poetic plain-style comes from Stafford's sentence rhythms, another contributing device is his choice of imagery. No matter what he writes about, he incorporates images of common living—i.e., "The View from Here":

        In Antarctica drooping their little shoulders
        like bottles the penguins stand, small,
        sad, black—and the wind
        bites hard over them….

Beginning with the exotic Antarctica, he still turns quickly to the commonplace with shoulders like bottles, the series of noncommittal adjectives, and the hard-biting wind, reminiscent of all the Midwestern winds of which he writes. The same kind of impulse is evident in "Holding in the Sky," a Romantic poem in which he attempts to describe spaciousness, of both time and distance. Instead of using an abstraction of "world enough and time," his turn of phrase is "We were traveling between a mountain and Thursday, / holding pages back on the calendar."

Sometimes Stafford's tendency to use the concrete and commonplace creates unusual imagery, highly effective in its juxtaposition of common states of being. (pp. 143-44)

Another of Stafford's characteristic uses of imagery is to parallel man's condition in natural occurrences…. In many of his poems, the initial image runs throughout the poem; imagery from nature is particularly easy to use in this kind of analogy. (pp. 144-45)

Stafford turns to natural imagery for even his heaviest subjects; it is as characteristic of his poetry as is his sentence rhythm. "Chickens the Weasel Killed" equates the attitudes of modern people with those of the chickens in question, and from his description of the chickens, he makes his analogy…. Through his comparison, Stafford's opinion of dispassionate, rational man is clear. Men without reason succumb to the predator, just as the passive chickens flocked before the weasel: the plurality of chickens is set against the "isolation" spoken of in line 6: "Any vision isolates." In this aphorism, the poet delivers his own moral judgment, and becomes the true child of Whitman. More than any other contemporary American poet, Stafford delivers injunctions, prescriptions, prohibitions, and gentle curses.

Once in a while, in poems like "In Response to a Question," Stafford sounds a great deal like Whitman. Although his structure is the same incremental sentence collection, his rhythm is determined as much by the way the aphorisms fall as by the sentence divisons. His interest is in the "saying" itself in this poem, as much as in the way things are said. (pp. 145-46)

More than structure, however, gives us the tone of the earlier poet. Stafford is concerned with the way man is living, the way man has to become himself. He is willing to take the same risks that Whitman took, because his "mission" is great enough to obscure pure art…. Conscious of his immediate world in all respects—the rhythms of its language, the objects of its physical world, and the real character of its people—Stafford feels a heavy responsibility to share his views with other human beings. (pp. 146-47)

Not without humor, Stafford's cryptic presentation of the human dilemma touches all areas of concern—ecology ("And if we purify the pond, the lilies die"), man's sense of place ("There will be something lacking in each room"), his sense of purpose ("Today we have to stand in absolute rain"), or the ultimate futility, of one of Stafford's best poems, "Late at Night," where his matter-of-fact tone and the rapid sequence of the last three lines convey his bleak mood most effectively. (pp. 148-49)

Stafford's openness to "cadence," "pace," "flow," "feel" has given his poetry its unusual rhythmic patterns, its genuine incremental plain-style that makes Whitman's catalogues and full phrasing sound artificial by comparison. Thematically, one can only conjecture, this same attitude has made Stafford a man ably equipped as poet, a man who observes his world as naturally as he draws breath; and finds orders of correspondence as meaningful as the first Romantics did. (pp. 149-50)

That one poet has found his own allegiances—and a voice to pay tribute so distinctly—gives us each strength to search for our own locations. Like Whitman, Stafford sends us looking for our own sturdy and common, but real, songs. (p. 151)

Linda W. Wagner, "William Stafford's Plain-Style" (originally published in Modern Poetry Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring, 1975), in her American Modern: Essays in Fiction and Poetry (reprinted by permission Associated Faculty Press, Inc., Port Washington, NY: copyright © 1980 by Kennikat Press Corp.), Kennikat Press, 1980, pp. 140-51.

GEORGE S. LENSING and RONALD MORAN

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Stafford's poems reveal thematically a singular and unified preoccupation. The voice of his work speaks from a sheltered vista of calm and steady deliberation. The speaker looks backward to a western childhood world that is joyous and at times edenic, even as he gazes with suspicion and some sense of peril upon the state of modern American society. The crux of each volume by Stafford involves the search for that earlier age identifiable by certain spiritual values associated with the wilderness, values which can sustain him and his family as well as the whole of the technological and urban society which surrounds him. The means to this search come through a poetry of images, images frequently and profoundly mythic. (p. 178)

The setting of Stafford's poetry is western, ranging from Kansas, the state of his birth and boyhood, to Oregon, where he has taught for more than two decades. As a result, Stafford's outdoor world is a landscape of nature writ large: there is the wind of poems like "Tornado" and "Before the Big Storm" and the sky of "Holding the Sky." His preferred world is "The Farm on the Great Plains," as one poem has it, or "At Cove on the Crooked River." In almost every case, the descriptive imagery accompanying these poems discloses a deeply human value symbolically inherent in the landscape. It is, in short, a setting ideally suitable to the poetry of the Emotive Imagination and one markedly distinct from the more midwestern settings of Bly and Wright. If a lyric by Robert Bly is likely to be set in a snowy Minnesota corn field, for example, one by Stafford will be located on the side of a mountain or along a riverbank. The setting is partially accountable for a distinction in the tone of the given lyric. There is less of the soft effusiveness one is likely to find, for example, in a poem by James Wright. As Stafford says in "The Preacher at the Corner," "Unavoidable / hills have made me stern, determined not to be wavery." Another quality that forestalls the "waveryness" of Stafford's poetry is his relative adherence to regular and formal metrical and stanzaic patterns.

The qualities which Stafford shares with the other poets of the Emotive Imagination, however, are basic. Although the poem itself more often speaks through the first person plural in a Stafford poem than the first person singular, the poet's activity is often solitary. Stafford's use of the collective "we" universalizes his own experiences. While the drama underlying the poem may originate in the external world, it can dart inward with sharp abruptness. The inward propulsion of the poem also follows upon the juxtaposition of images. (p. 179)

Stafford's affinities with and contribution to the poetry of the Emotive Imagination … [involve] both theme and technique. In its larger context, his poetry is essentially Janus-faced: it looks back with nostalgia upon an idealized childhood, but never at a removal from a far more foreboding perspective of modern society. His poetry seeks to chart the connectives between these two worlds. What, then, is the relation between such a thematic preoccupation and the Emotive Imagination? It is precisely in the way by which the poetic imagination seeks to link up the two perspectives. The childhood world is extolled through images of the wilderness; the validity of that world and the accessibility of its values are revealed through a poetry of distinctly archetypal images….

Perhaps William Stafford is equaled only by Theodore Roethke among American poets who cherish the memory of childhood. Stafford goes beyond even Roethke, however, in defining the father as the central occupant of that near-perfect world. If for Dylan Thomas the childhood eden of "Fern Hill" finds him "honoured among foxes and pheasants" and "prince of the apple towns," Stafford's eden is appreciably simpler: "Plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code." The Kansas boyhood of Stafford, marking an epoch of American life between the two wars, is rural, austere, inhabited by companionable neighbors and dominated by family. Its value for Stafford, though, is more than sentimental. It ultimately represents a way of life that forcibly contradicts the urban world of the 1960s and '70s. Its moral precepts derive directly from an intimate familiarity with the land and the wilderness…. (p. 184)

The mythic quality of the childhood world is dominated by the figure of the father who appears in dozens of Stafford's poems…. The father who appears in the poems is heroic: he is provider and protector; his moral strength is steady and independent of worldly expectations; most important of all, he is the high priest of the wilderness. Like Sam Fathers to Isaac McCaslin or Natty Bumppo to the neophytes of the frontier, Stafford's father is initiator and instructor to the son, not only in relation to the wilderness itself, but in the moral values which inhere within it. (p. 187)

Another character-type who corresponds to the father in the poetry of Stafford is the American Indian. Like the father, the Indians and their chiefs are dead; and their wisdom also derives from intimacy with the wilderness. They too impart their wisdom, heroically purchased, to their survivors through the agency of the poem….

The qualities by which the Indian is most consistently defined are not ferocity and warfare, but reticence and concealment, an insight common to the Indian poems of both Wright and [Louis] Simpson. His life is enacted according to rituals and symbolic patterns which bring him into harmony with the wilderness. He is marked by his withdrawal, both imposed and preferred, from the predator-settlers. (p. 192)

["Returned to Say"] illustrates a tenet which underlies all of Stafford's Indian poems: most of the Indians have been violently removed; their pattern of life, adherent to the values of the wilderness, remains a richly attractive alternative to contemporary society. (pp. 193-94)

The childhood world, for all its mythic import, is past, and "the rescued year" is saved from oblivion only through the language of poetry. Family and friends of youth have departed; the Indian civilizations of the past are reduced to captive feebleness. The values by which that lost world existed, however, remain possible; they are indeed a desperately prescribed remedy in the face of perils which Stafford sees on every side. The nature of those perils occupies a major portion of Stafford's canon as a poet. The precarious world in which the poet finds himself is described through three principal categories. The first is composed of the dangers of the wilderness and nature itself, dangers that existed as much in the past as in the present, though they seem more acute now. The second category is made up of specific descriptions of modern, technological society. The poems here are concerned with the threats of nuclear war, of a ravaging industrial society, and of a mechanical existence that divorces the individual from authentic human values. Finally, some poems form a category which exposes the sham and vapidity of modern social behavior.

It is important to note that in the last two instances Stafford is presenting the reader with an impression of modern society that is diametrically opposed to the idealized world of childhood. The two worlds, in fact, stand almost irreconcilably apart. Finally, it is the vocation of the poet to discover the means by which the two poles can be brought together so that modern society can be redeemed. That will only occur, however, by the unequivocal embrace of the ethos which informed the life of the western boyhood of Stafford.

Although many of his poems suggest that Stafford's view of the childhood world is innocently utopian, this vision does not hold universally. The same resources of the wilderness which nourish the happiest human existence also disclose a kind of Darwinian struggle wherein predation and decay lurk. "With One Launched Look," "Chickens and Weasel Killed," "Love the Butcher Bird Lurks Everywhere" are poems which, as their titles suggest, betray the inhospitable in nature. A fundamental lesson of the nature world is that all life is defined by insecurity and transitoriness. (pp. 194-95)

Being alert and cautious affords some protection against the natural disasters of the world. In any case, human volition is relatively helpless in correcting the aberrances themselves. The same cannot be said for the more ominous threats that emerge in Stafford's verse. These are humanly invented and humanly imposed.

Of special concern to Stafford are those means of technology that endanger the wilderness. It is a theme to which he returns in every volume. "They have killed the river and built a dam," he asserts in "The Fish Counter at Bonneville." Oil well engines have outlasted the vigilance of the snakes in "Boom Town." Especially in "Quiet Town" the ironic silence and reserve of the community only thinly cover various acts of delinquency: "Technicians in suicide plan courses / in high school for as long as it takes." The automobile graveyard is taken as a symbol of contemporary standards for succeeding generations in "Time": "The river was choked with old Chevies and Fords. / And that was the day the world ended."

In poems such as these Stafford shares with Bly, Wright, and Simpson a distrust and disavowal of much of what he finds in modern society. Unlike these poets, however, Stafford's appraisal of that scene is not so much founded upon the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, or between unscrupulous capitalists and ostracized misfits. Rather, it is the rapacious destruction of the natural world, the environment of all men, that most perplexes him. (p. 196)

The poetry of Stafford has been thematically examined up to this point in terms of two poles. The first is the idealized world of childhood…. The second pole fixes firmly upon the present world which surrounds Stafford's adult life. It is seen almost exclusively in terms of fretful risk. The mechanized state of modern society which has forced the removal of man from his intimate identity with the land and nature is not only a threat to the continuation of the wilderness itself but insidiously reduces the terms of human existence to debilitating distortions and artificialities.

There is finally, however, a third state in the poetry of Stafford which is posited upon the kind of life the poet has attempted to stake for himself and his family. It is to some degree a romantic world which entails, necessarily, a partial retreat from the other and larger society which encloses him. But as a world of retreat it is not one of illusion. In the final analysis, the entire thrust of Stafford's work taken as a whole is toward the disclosure of a life that seeks to recapture the values of that other elusive and boyhood world. Consequently, these poems refuse to submit to the inflictions against the wilderness—both physical and spiritual. Rather, they are poems of desperate retrenchment.

The image in which Stafford casts himself in these poems is, to some extent, that of an isolated, sometimes lonely, advocate…. It should be remembered, though, that Stafford's thematic conservatism in these poems does not emerge out of ignorance or insensitivity to the compelling issues of the larger world. To the contrary, he suggests that some form of retreat is finally the only remedy with which he can address those issues. The poems of what one might call the "modern wilderness" are calculated on Stafford's part to this end.

A major premise of these poems is that one's moral choices that lead to personal happiness depend integrally on the location of where one lives. Geography is the primary ingredient of personal gratification. In this sense, Stafford's poetry is as regionalist as that of southern poets like James Dickey…. All of these poems offer an alternative to an America where lives are marked by mobility, rootlessness, and insulation from the soil. Stafford is most overtly didactic on precisely this point: "One's duty: to find a place / that grows from his part of the world," or "The earth says have a place, be what that place / requires." A second criterion is a kind of burrowing in once the individual has found that location, a stubborn resolution to hold fast to one's chosen land. In "A Story," the poem's speaker observes mysterious climbers whose objectives are unknown: "they crawl far before they die." His own response is the opposite: "I make my hole the deepest one / this high on the mountainside." Another requirement is isolation. The secrets of the wilderness are divulged only to the one who removes himself from civilization. The "apparition river" of "By the Snake River" is lost when the poet "went / among the people to be one of them." Especially the spiritual life of nature is discernible only when "The railroad dies by a yellow depot, / town falls away toward a muddy creek." Finally, the fruits of the wilderness can never be discovered by rational chartings. "You thinkers, prisoners of what will work," are disavowed by Stafford in "An Epiphany" as he describes a brief and almost mystical encounter with a dog "in quick unthought." Such revelations are spontaneous, fleeting, and granted at moments when least expected.

The method of the Emotive Imagination is most apparent in the poems of the modern wilderness when Stafford seeks to define its concealed meanings. The deepest life of nature is revealed only rarely and under conditions outlined above. Even so, Stafford suggests an ambivalence in presenting the accessibility of those meanings. Glimpses (a favorite Stafford word) are possible; and, at times, a profound linking between the human and the nonhuman natural world occurs. On the other hand, Stafford occasionally suggests that the boundaries between the two worlds are impenetrable, and the imposition of the human is a tainting activity. (pp. 201-04)

The upshot of Stafford's poetry of the modern wilderness is a reaffirmation of American life in the twentieth century. It is true that poems like "At the Bomb Testing Site," "A Documentary from America," "Traveling through the Dark," and others remind us of the tenuous and imperiled state of that life. At times a meager stoicism seems the best resort: "Today we have to stand in absolute rain / and face whatever comes from God." Stafford's poetry epitomizes the quality of the Emotive Imagination—that for all its romanticism, this poetry will not take refuge in illusions or pretensions about the state of modern society. Part of his confidence in the future is founded upon the miraculous ability of the wilderness, independent of any human agency, to renew itself. It is this of which he speaks in "A Pippa Lilted": "It will be soon; / good things will happen." Or, the acceptance of the unheroic and unexalted in human nature, an honest perspective, allows "a pretty good world" in "Adults Only." Most important of all, however, and that which underlies Stafford's continued didacticism, is the faith that the life he once enjoyed upon the Kansas wilderness and the one he seeks to reclaim upon the modern wilderness is still dynamic and accessible. (p. 215)

George S. Lensing and Ronald Moran, "Poetry of the Emotive Imagination: William Stafford," in their Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination: Robert Bly, James Wright, Louis Simpson, and William Stafford (reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press; copyright © 1976 by Louisiana State University Press), Louisiana State University Press, 1976, pp. 177-216.

Lawrence Kramer

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[A] radical faith in the power of language to implicate reality has been the religion of American poetry for at least a century…. [Recently] the American poet's trust in language has shown itself as a "letting go" of what seem to be the recognized constraints of writing: a release of potentialities that are latent in the language one sets down. This letting go produces a text that half seems to write itself, or that can be trusted to write itself in a way that dissolves or blurs the boundaries between language and its referents. The poet's role in this process is to originate it and give it contour: to let his language speak through him, as if he were a kind of modern Ion, inspired not by divine madness but by the intrinsic sanity of the word. (pp. 101-02)

As [John Ashbery, A. R. Ammons, and W. S. Merwin] show, there is no central or privileged form for the American poet's trust in language. One kind of trust, however, does seem to show itself widely, and perhaps even approximates a contemporary norm. William Stafford's volume of collected poems, Stories That Could Be True, develops it searchingly…. I am tempted to call this trust quietistic, partly because it leads to a language that does not seek to transform itself, and partly because the vision that this language supports is curiously muted in its terms of desire, even when the desire itself is intense. This mode of trust, which is sometimes simply quiet and sometimes genuinely quietist, is paradoxical by nature. Quiet trust in language is an extreme trust so strong in the intrinsic hold of language on reality that the poetic language it produces is the reverse of extreme. Simple, direct, rooted in observation, this language is free to cross the borders of common discourse, but rarely finds the need to. Poetry written with a quiet trust in language invests extraordinary power in simple statement, and understands the possibilities of complex figuration as resources which need be used only in the unusual situations in which reality proves especially evasive. The language of quiet poetry works on the world not by adding to it but by selecting from it; when the language is "let go," it defines itself as much by what it declines to do as by what it does, and is in that sense ascetic. Poetry written in this mode does not try to interpret reality, much less transform it, but simply to record or inscribe it, as if fact were the sweetest dream that the poem's labor knew. The language is as neutral as it can make itself, with a neutrality like a snapshot's, its presence a frame thrown around an event; if the event is something remarkable, so should the picture be. Meaning should be implicit in the fact, not in the word. (pp. 102-03)

The quiet in the poetry of William Stafford is the product of Stafford's poetics of desire. Like many modernist poems, Stafford's center on a moment of fruition or fulfillment, but unlike its modernist counterparts, Stafford's privileged moment is neither sublime nor transcendental; nor, for the most part, is it even epiphanic. Stafford acknowledges the appeal of the "dread and wonder" of the modernist moment, and even the necessity for tasting its "far streams," but he serenely puts it aside for a change that leaves us "safe, quiet, grateful" in common reality…. Stafford's desire selects a moment of felt integration with the land to which he belongs, which is the West; but the texture of the moment is like the strange silence that follows the cessation of a sound one was not conscious of hearing. Often retrospective, and rarely the apparent object of a desire projecting into the future, Stafford's "moment" combines a sense of peace or calm, a stillness, and a sense that the self's presence is permitted or acknowledged by presences external to it.

To record such moments, or the void left by their absence, Stafford has developed a language of radical "quiet," but also of great clarity, like a whisper without the hoarseness. (p. 104)

Stafford's poems are not written, as a rule, wholly from within a steady quiet. More often than not, the quiet is their goal, and they find it after a wandering movement in which the language moves well outside the boundaries of ordinary writing. Usually, the quiet achieved in this way focuses itself on a singularity, like the little tree: a something or someone that the poem's language recalls but does not interpret, because interpretation would be false while mere acknowledgment is in some sense true. (p. 105)

Stafford's poetry is full of moments in which the poet is instructed by others' voices, almost always remembered voices which the poet transcribes. The act of writing the voices down combines the features of celebration and recognition; sometimes, too, of translation, because the voices often come not from persons but from nature…. These voices always draw the poet close to the center of his vision, and what they say is always quiet, in the special sense I have tried to give the word. Perhaps all of Stafford's work tries to approach this moment of transcription, even when the only "voice" it involves is his own. His poetry consummates its efforts by evoking or achieving the muted, simple statement in which the special unity that he seeks appears to speak for itself, whether to tell of its arrival or departure. The language of this unity is almost painfully plain, and the poetry accommodates it by turning away from the resources of figuration—suppressing, renouncing, or muting them, as the poem's language becomes the language of its object. At its most extreme, the poem's opening into this quiet mode, this writing down of the voice of something other, turns to a genuine quietism, in which the poet's self is absorbed or dispelled…. Stafford's achievement in his chosen domain is distinctive. It is good to have his collection. A poet who insists on listening as much as "speaking," who writes down the speech of the real, is worth attending to. Yet there are serious limits here as well. Stafford's eloquent simplicities are not immune from sententiousness and sentimentality, and when his modulations into quiet are ineffective, they appear as an evasive way to find closure for the complexities his poems have wandered into. More serious than these occasional falterings, however, is the problem inherent in Stafford's very virtue: the passivity of self implied by his quietism. With few and rather splendid exceptions ("Earth Dweller," for instance), Stafford's poetry refuses the risks of high intensity, of powerful demand and powerful disappointment. Fear in him rarely becomes terror; loss shrinks from grief to nostalgia; and privileged moments are rewarding rather than exalting, soothing rather than exacting. Ultimately, the self in Stafford's work is just too small—too willing to rest in the given, too wary of desire and inner turbulence; and this makes his various submissions to otherness less significant than they should be, wonderful as many of them are. The self, perhaps, is a surplus commodity in American poetry, from Whitman and Dickinson on down, but Stafford's attempt to modulate its claims denies its energies instead of restructuring them. Even so, this is the kind of demurral that can only be made against a poet whose vision is moving enough and persuasive enough to be troubling; and Stafford is certainly that. (pp. 107-08)

Lawrence Kramer, "In Quiet Language," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © Poetry in Review Foundation), Vol. 6, No. 2, Spring-Summer, 1978, pp. 101-17.∗

Greg Orfalea

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[William Stafford] is a unique poet if there ever was one, though somewhat misunderstood, I feel, and, strangely neglected by the critics. (p. 272)

For some reason he has been accepted as a bucolic poet. This is utterly preposterous, though he digs deep into the land for analogues. He is an urbane naturalist. His touted simplicity is not simple…. He is one of the slipperiest poets around, but like seals, that's getting rare.

I like to think of him as a "family jiber" who draws things closer by testing and defining boundaries. Families need such jibers. And so does a society…. William Stafford has been doing it all with a particularly sensitive and intelligent stethoscope—himself. It is my own belief that in a steady, unobtrusive fashion, a great voice in poetry has matured, which has its own American grapple with innocence…. [Stafford] moves the reader into an underworld, full of moral shadow, rich with loss and memory, with praises for light, and the penance known as poetry. It is also the realm of a wise man (we have few in modern poetry, whose muse is Release rather than Reflection), and the wise, so rare, give us more to live with, and yet are undepletable…. (pp. 272-73)

I can't think of many moderns (other than Roethke and Thomas) who have used oxymoron as deftly as Stafford. This combination for epigrammatic effect of contradictory or incongruous words can be found in Horace, Donne, Keats, most of the metaphysical poets, and foliates in Shakespeare…. Oxymoron is not endemic to our Western rationalistic tradition—it occurs most in those authors who desire to fuse creation, who hunger for unity, and hence the poetry of mysticism abounds in oxymoron. The writer of the Cloud of Unknowing "knows" God. Although the Romantics experimented with it, it is still a rarely used device in the West, more endemic to the paradoxical mind of the Orient, and actually a staple in haiku…. [Throughout] his work, Stafford's muse is skewered with oxymoron: "target shoots," a man so "found" he can search to be "lost," "sacred crimes," a "wonderful confusion." In a not-so-comedic sense, knowing the way is "troublesome." All these are mind-twisters when first plunging into Stafford, and make for infinite challenge to the devoted reader, but may, in part, make the critics shy away. (pp. 276-77)

Early on, Stafford keynoted his task as a writer: "Your job is to find out what the world is trying to be." The world is a process toward an end only glimpsed, with a meaning that flickers, but does not stay. Yet his poetry is filled with statements of strange conviction: "Our lives are an amnesty given us"; "God is Cold."; "Love is of the earth only"; "At the end we sense / none of you, none of us—no one."; "Men should not claim, nor should they have to ask."

Why do I say "strange" conviction? Partially, because Stafford manages to praise an existence which he finds quite limited. Though it is often a harsh one, it is obvious to him "the world … is our only friend." But also—our poetic diet the past fifty years in America is not used to conviction, so much so that Auden wanted to rescind his bold plea: "We must love one another or die." Ever since Pound and Williams we have been fed, as writers and readers, "No ideas but in things" as an almost one-course meal. (pp. 278-79)

Stafford is so significant a poet—and so ignored by fashionable literati—because his poetry risks statement, again and again, and yet nicks it with an image. The prevailing mode is the converse. While many writers burrow into the laboratory, Stafford continues taking life itself seriously. One senses that he loves starting a debate, though, unnervingly at times, he leaves it. And his poems sustain a tension of a man struggling to be inside his community, when all along his personal beliefs have taken him outside.

There are pitfalls to Stafford's way of writing, and he does not seem shy about falling. He can veer into too-easy a polemic, as in "The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune," or, more rarely, chance sanctimony, as in "Hurt People" where he talks about, apparently, emotionally injured people as if they were foreign bodies outside his placenta. At times, he sports, in the words of Carol Jane Bangs, "aggressive humility." There is overgeneralizing occasionally, badged by a favorite adjective in his titles: "any"—"Any Time," "Any Vacation." His main stylistic fault, though, is excessive rhetoric…. (pp. 279-80)

A lot of these flaws are evident simply because Stafford puts more mediocre poems into print than, say, Richard Hugo. And yet at his best, no American poet is more haunting, or illuminating. (p. 280)

But why has Stafford been so widely appreciated (he won the National Book Award with his first book, Traveling Through the Dark) and yet somewhat neglected by critics …? I have a few guesses:

1. He is a centrist, in both theme and style. In fact, I can't think of a poet who is more at the center of things than Stafford, the way a votive flame is in the center of its holder. And as such, he is much harder to define, being in the center.

2. He is, at core, a moralist, and it is currently in vogue to think of morality as an empty word.

3. He started publishing late—first book of poems at the age of 46. By then, his poetic vision had already matured. There has been no leaping incremental changes in his work, the kind of thing critics feed on (Oh, oh! Haven't you heard? James Wright is no longer rhyming!). Also, he hasn't been able to satiate the critics' hunger for those young voices nurtured on the nitroglycerine of fame (witness Delmore Schwartz, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, etc.).

4. He lives, and for a long time, on the West Coast. For some reason, which probably rests between the third martini on the thirty-seventh story of the Empire State Building and a talcumed finger in the five-hundredth page of the O.E.D., writers west of the Rockies are considered: local color…. I honestly think geography plays a part in why Stafford is accepted warmly, but not greatly acclaimed.

                                           (pp. 280-81)

There is as much technically challenging about Stafford's poems, as thematically. He uses equivocation to an advantage, and milks the different nuances of a recurring word. He verbizes nouns. He loves to make an apparently intransitive verb transitive: "You think water in the river."… He has an excellent ear, and sense of metrical contrasts as well as the lilting meters many thought died with Dylan Thomas. He uses unique similes: "moonlight pouring through the trees like money." And, again, all creation seems personified.

His themes are at once simple and complex, revealed and mysterious. Like our most important contemporary writers (Beckett, Bellow, and Heller come to mind), Stafford is reinterpreting the word "hero." His brand of "hero" is a "fugitive from speed / antagonist of greatness." As a pacificist, he is alarmed at the capacity for slaughter the human race is stockpiling, and yet continually favors the wild over the dignified. He writes of ethical choice. He writes of freedom and limits, of alienation (longing) vs. belonging, of memory's role in refurbishing life, about the limits of "thinking" as well as the rescue of the imaginative act. Finally, and increasingly so, he is a poet of mortality, of death. His after-life is not peopled, nor is it transubstantiated, as in Whitman and Vosnesensky. All that is left is memory, and one prepares for it knowing he will not be doing the remembering.

And so William Stafford writes poems. He embraces "little lost orphans." He takes the near. He loves that word "near," and has written a beautiful poem to it. Because he senses, it seems, the distance and darkness of a world no closer, though on Mars. He is our Thomas Hardy, though at once more light, and more desolate, than Hardy. (pp. 282-83)

Greg Orfalea, "The Warm Stoic: William Stafford," in Pebble, Special Issue: A Book of Rereadings in Recent American Poetry—30 Essays (copyright © 1979 by Greg Kuzma), Nos. 18, 19 & 20, 1979, pp. 271-300.

Frederick Garber

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The long spaces which stretch ahead of us, compelling our half-willed entry into them; that curious Other, whose approach can be deadly, whose hiding-places and motivation are out in those long spaces and have to be sought for there—this is essential Stafford. If it takes some of its origin in Frost (much of our modern poetry of nature does, Emersonians to the contrary) there is also a great deal which was in Stafford from the beginning and was confirmed by Frost. Stafford saw the long spaces elementally in Kansas. What Stories That Could Be True makes clear is how the Midwest modes of living in space were transformed into the Northwest ones, how Stafford was plains and is mountains, how all these together shape out a vision which is unique in our time. It has now become possible to argue, with full substantiation, not only that Stafford is (or used to be) frequently uneven but also—what we have guessed for some time—that he is one of the best poets we have. The irony of that combination is also peculiarly his own.

One of the boons of this collected edition is its inclusion of West of Your City, Stafford's long unavailable first volume. Though some of the poems from that book had been reprinted in later collections this edition puts them back where they were, showing how they take their full meaning only in concentration and in their original place. Stafford's sense of westering is old and new, one that goes back through an American Romantic sense of the direction's meaning (Thoreau shows it beautifully) and is still part of the direction's force…. West is both Midwest and Far West but it is always west of where we are. It is the place of nature and especially of nature's secrecy, that Otherness which we can touch at times … and which privileged observers like Stafford's father can touch at any time…. What is out there is limitless in its secrecy but our need to go out there to find it is equally limitless…. West is a direction, a point of the compass, a way of organizing the long spaces which have been with Stafford from his first book to his latest; but West is also a state of being, a condition of the world in which we have to live. Stafford has always been surrounded by such conditions, some of which he can seek to penetrate, some of which (especially in the later books) he cannot hope to understand while we are here.

But there is still a good deal of understanding that is possible here, though we have to look for ways to get at it and for others who have done so. Stafford admires a certain intentness of being which he sees in animals but particularly in other men who seem grounded in that Otherness that he wants to know. Poems on Eskimos and Indians turn up, singly and in bunches, throughout the collected work. There is a series on Ishi which has mixed success, and there is a wonderful "Returned to Say," which puts the points as richly as Stafford has ever done. This is no sentimental primitivism, though the Cree in "Returned to Say" is as noble a savage as anyone has made, but rather an admiration of intentness of being because it seems to lead to—and grow back out of—a deep intentness of knowing…. [The] kind of seeing Stafford admires [is] a knowing of the world outside as though one were knowing it from inside itself, the kind of knowing that only people at the edge can have. Seeing and knowing are one, and saying follows from them: Stafford knows this, and so do the people at the edge. Intentness of being leads to intentness of knowing because we are as we see. We should be able, then, to use our probative seeing as a mode of search for the self…. Saying things at the edge is not only for those who know themselves and the world from which they speak; it is also for those who want to have such knowledge and put themselves at the edge in order to find it.

Being out there—or trying to be out there—means being in a place to which we have to pay careful attention. Of course the place can be anywhere because the edge one seeks to live at is as much a matter of the inner landscape as the outer; or, from another perspective, of the way these landscapes relate to each other…. If we are as we see we are also where we live. Stafford is a regionalist but he is as much a poet of the mind's places as of America's. In a way all regionalists are like that (Hardy's novels and poems make a similar point) but with Stafford that awareness of the coupling of place and being is a pervasive, possessive theme. He is as self-conscious about the coupling as Stevens is, though they come at it through very different modes. Stafford is sentimental about some things but never about this one. (pp. 17-18)

Critics ought to talk more about tonality in Stafford. There are ways of seeing and saying which are, for good and for bad, unmistakably his own: "If your policy is to be friends in the mountains / a rock falls on you: the only real friends—/ you can't help it." Sometimes this kind of kookiness brings out statements which we have to take on faith if we are to take them at all. Still, when we ease into them they tend to make the sort of sense that the anomalous can make when it opens up part of our lives. In several poems in The Rescued Year Stafford attributes his bent for the apt but off-center phrase to "a turn that is our family's own." At his best, he makes this turn into a way of handling poems which combines the precise with the strange, fact with a quirky but frequently illuminating vision. I read through the collected poems to see what happens to this turn as well as several other characteristic Staffordisms. It grows less and less prevalent as he goes on, mellowing into a ripeness of distinctive seeing which produces row after row of brilliant poems in the later work. The relationship of those turns, early and mellow, to the quietness which everyone speaks of, is one of the bases of Stafford's voice. There are other recurrent elements in his tonality, such as the vast compassion which used to seem mainly for the foresaken but turns out, as the collected poems show, to be for all of us. Stafford can touch us with a delicate grace, bringing over to us an understanding of how others face the difficulties of their ordinary pains and places. In a poem like "Elegy" the intensity of his understanding does not come out on the surface but it makes the surface come alive with feeling; and what he feels is about the ordinary because it is ordinary. But then Stafford has always been a populist of the imagination, and, whatever he does, that mode continues….

When the poems don't work we realize that his failures are the obverse of his successes, that what makes him good is also, when it goes wrong, what makes him bad. The worst of Stafford is flat and unfinished. He tries to bring off the precise level of pitch but cannot—usually, I think, because his perceptions are incomplete or his sense of their wholeness, their connections to each other, has not yet jelled. In those cases he cannot manage his seeing and his saying so that they reinforce each other, as they do in the best work. Indeed, we can recognize the best work by the presence of that reinforcement. Stafford used to have difficulty with his last lines, leaving some fine poems with throw-away endings, but there is far less of that in the later work. It may be that he can handle the endings better now because "the moment that hides in the breath / to be king when kingdoms end" is more apparent and seems far less unsettling. Whatever the case, the collected poems show the unevenness dropping away as his skills become second nature and his tonality—richer, more concentrated, in full ripeness—stays regularly under control. (p. 18)

Frederick Garber, "On Richard Hugo and William Stafford" (copyright © 1980 by World Poetry, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Frederick Garber), in The American Poetry Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, January-February, 1980, pp. 16-18.∗

G. E. Murray

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[In Writing the Australian Crawl, William Stafford] gathers together articles, lectures, addresses and interviews on matters of poetic inspiration, composition, technique and purpose. Now this brand of book is not unusual. It is a relatively contemporary practise for writers, in effect, "to clean out their desks" by assembling odds and ends of their works, superimposing an order of sorts, and giving it a catchy title. The result is an instant book. To some extent, this is the pattern Stafford follows. However, what distinguishes Writing the Australian Crawl is the engaging, emerging profile of Stafford as creator and personality….

Stafford generally has been appreciated as a plain talking but remarkably effective and influential American poet, one who has paradoxically fashioned a part of the mainstream of American poetry by keeping apart from its trends and politics. And this is the Stafford we discover in this collection of creative position and premise.

On the basics of poetry, for example, Stafford comments: "If you analyse it away, it's gone. It would be like boiling a watch to find out what makes it tick." And later, he notes:

Poems don't just happen. They are luckily or stealthily related to a readiness within ourselves. When we read or hear them, we react. We aren't just supposed to react—any poem that asks for a dutiful response is masquerading as a poem, not being one. A good rule is—don't respond unless you have to. But when you find you do have a response—trust it. It has a meaning.

Read that passage again. This isn't crackerbarrel wisdom. Stafford is offering anyone who wants to learn their way around a poem some mighty substantial advice….

Stafford continues:

When I write, grammar is my enemy; the materials of my craft come at me in a succession of emergencies in which my feelings are ambivalent; I do not have any commitments, just opportunities. Not the learning of methods, not the broadening of culture, not even the preserving of civilization (there may be greater things than civilizations), but a kind of dizzying struggle with the Now-ness of experience, that is my involvement in writing.

It is this spirit of disciplined association, of struggling for imaginative opportunities, that has served this poet's work so well. Stafford has suggested that making a poem is like starting a car on ice. Writing the Australian Crawl provides vision into how the poet negotiates that risk. It's a book that offers valuable sustenance and direction for poets and poetry readers alike. (p. 50)

G. E. Murray, "Poets on Poetry" (copyright © Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi 1980; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), in National Forum, Vol. LX, No. 4, Fall, 1980, pp. 50-1.∗

Stephen Corey

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For Roethke, the notion of the minimal had many aspects: the short-lined, tightly metered couplets and quatrains …; the subject matter of the brilliant greenhouse poems in The Lost Son, where the poet's close attention to "the little sleepers" awakens his sense so violently that he can pass through the greenhouse and notice how "my knees made little winds underneath / Where the weeds slept"; and the minimal philosophy of fear, ennui, and emptiness in such late poems as "The Thing" and "In a Dark Time." (pp. 732-33)

For Stafford, the minimal becomes primarily a matter of subject, and as the title of Things That Happen Where There Aren't Any People announces, the poet looks for simplification through a version of a most fundamental Romantic theme: uncorrupted and primitive Nature as a wellspring of wisdom and love. This is no new theme for Stafford; in fact, his insistent returns to this idea have been almost pathological. (p. 733)

Stafford's dogged faith in the teaching power of Nature has been matched by his persistent demand for a plain-spoken poetry—even, at times, a bardic poetry—and in this respect he is more like Whitman than like any other American Romantic. While stylistic comparisons of Stafford and Whitman could not be carried very far, there are certain points in Things That Happen where the Gray Poet's rolling voice of the open road cannot be missed. (pp. 733-34)

Stafford must abandon man in order to see him again. In a way Stafford's landscape is full of people but not in the usual sense. Rather the people are there as spirits invited to renew themselves at the altar of Nature. These poems are written for those not present in the poems. "An Offering," the last piece in Things That Happen, addresses beautifully just this notion of Nature as renewing force. (p. 734)

Whitman spent his entire career rewriting a single volume of poems, and I have mentioned already the unity that Stafford's canon exhibits. Such persistency and constancy can be the marks of a major poet but can also carry dangers, and these two poets share flaws as well as strengths: recurrent ideas can become repetitive poems, and plain-speaking can become flat poetry. The first of these potential weaknesses threatens Things That Happen most often, and Stafford may be countering the problem of repetitiveness when he emphasizes the omnipresence of the natural world's power…. But still the poet must give new words to the old ideas, and by the time we reach the title poem at mid-volume, we feel we have already been there. In short, Stafford's collection may have too much unity for its own good, so that respectable poems pale beside finer poems on the same subject.

Stafford is willing to have his language collapse at times as the price paid for building a voice virtually ungirded by poetic gestures. When this voice is clear and fresh, the result is marvelous…. But there are times when freshness departs from Stafford's writing, and we are left only with the clarity of easy statements. There is a note in Stafford's natural songs which tends toward the sentimental …, and another note which sings clichéd philosophies…. (pp. 735-36)

Things That Happen has fine moments, but it shows Stafford eliminating too many of his strengths in singleminded pursuit of his vision of the natural world. Empty lands have always been his subject, but so have people, and many of his finest poems in earlier volumes have brought individuals to life with precise, loving detail. A poem late in Things That Happen concludes, "What disregards people does people good," but while Stafford often convinces us of this truth as we read his new collection, there are times when we would wish people back into this landscape—people who would regard us, and whom we would regard, in ways that would also do us good. (p. 736)

Stephen Corey, "Lives on Leaves," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1981, by The Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 57, No. 4 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 732-43.∗

Peter Stitt

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William Stafford's new book, A Glass Face in the Rain, contains six introductory poems set in italic type, one standing at the beginning of each individual section and one placed at the very start of the book. The best actual introduction to the volume, however, may be found in the concluding stanza of the first "real" poem in the book, "Tuned in Late One Night":

             Now I am fading, with this ambition:
             to read with my brights full on,
             to write on a clear glass typewriter,
             to listen with sympathy,
             to speak like a child.

The passage recognizes the position of the writer—as an aging man, he is "fading," able to see his own death in the not so distant future—and indicates his desires as a poet: he wishes to confront the truth without blinking and to express it exactly as he sees it; he wishes to write beautifully, clearly; he will continue to approach to world with love, even when it errs; and he will not fear his own innocence.

James Wright once spoke of William Stafford as a natural poet, a man with a sensibility so lyrical that virtually his every utterance becomes poetry. One thing that makes writing such a spontaneous activity for Stafford is that he developed the characteristic form for his poems early in his career and has rarely strayed from it. Almost a sonnet, the typical Stafford poem is short and sounds chatty, the lines are neither precisely metered nor free; lyricism and relaxation balance one another on the page…. Indeed, his poems really do not form into sequences and, despite thematic clustering, his books remain collections of individual lyrics rather than becoming cohesive, unified structures. Because of the intimate, chatty voice in which they are spoken, Stafford's poems seem simple on a first reading; only closer attention shows the carefulness of their crafting. (pp. 911-12)

Despite the presence of death in these poems, Stafford's gaze is not turned upon any world other than this one. His emphasis is on being, the process of life itself…. His outlook is, however, basically religious, morally and mystically. The moralistic appears in several poems which contemplate the apocalyptic end of the world, most likely through war…. More prevalent is the mystical concern; many poems express a sense of something—a meaning, a sanctity—beyond and within the world we live in and see. What this is is never defined, only hinted at; the form it takes is of an instant which seems, by one avenue or another, to open into eternity…. (pp. 912-13)

Perhaps the weakest area of this book is called up by Stafford's desire to "speak like a child." When he discusses the creative process in interviews, Stafford customarily emphasizes how the poet must avoid becoming his own censor by cultivating too strong a critical sense of his own work. Surely this is good advice for the poet to follow as he writes, and it has obviously served Stafford well, judging from the great freedom of his own output. But one often wishes that the critical sense were stronger when it comes to the point of the poet's selecting poems to include in a book. Writing good lyrical poetry is a sophisticated undertaking; occasionally Stafford is so concerned to achieve a childlike tone that he seems to abandon poetry altogether and lapses into flatness and literality…. [The] introductory poems to the sections in this book often have a childlike defensiveness to them, as Stafford both answers his critics and attempts to direct our reading of his work. For example, the opening lines of "A Tentative Welcome to Readers": "It is my hope that those who blame / these tentatives may find some other / reading and be supremely matched / by pieces worthy of them."

I will conclude these words on William Stafford by [mentioning] a wonderful, though not entirely typical, poem. "Incident" has an apocalyptic tone to it, and that is familiar, but what makes it so appealing is its teasing inexplicability…. Some kind of allegory, I suppose, and much of the phrasing is Biblical. The talking box reminds me of Stephen Crane; but as for what the whole thing may mean, I confess that I am as puzzled as John Berryman professed to be by John Crowe Ransom's "Captain Carpenter." Some poems work best this way. (pp. 913-14)

Peter Stitt, "A Remarkable Diversity," in The Georgia Review (copyright, 1982, by the University of Georgia), Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, Winter, 1982, pp. 911-22.∗

MICHAEL McFEE

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Next year—Gods and Muses, Graces and Fates willing—William Stafford will quietly turn 70…. And it's about time to ask: is there a more exemplary poet among us?…

William Stafford has produced a stream of steady lyrics. There is no stylish violence about them: they are calm, alert, ruminative poems, spoken sotto voce. They may address so-called clichés and abstractions, like "love" or "truth," but in a self-effacing, unegotistical fashion: their method is exploratory, not declamatory. Stafford knows his place in the order of things, knows his "Vocation," in the title of an early poem, whose last line summarizes his entire enterprise: "Your job is to find out what the world is trying to be." (p. 88)

Like his other volumes, [A Glass Face in the Rain] marks no surprising or gratuitous shift in direction for Stafford's poetry: it simply continues the conversation left off in Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems five years before. Stafford can be startling, but in ways indigenous to the poetry and the world, not by importing a sensational new mask to wear. Some people, regarding Stafford's single-minded if prolific lyricism, might find a redundant monotony where others see constancy and fidelity. And some people, with a glance toward [Robert Penn] Warren's generic diversity, might mark this characteristic as evidence of Stafford's limitations, and file him under "minor poet." But Stafford, a man disdainful of literary posterity, would probably only shrug and point to "that one / open, great, real thing—the world's gift: day." (p. 89)

A Glass Face in the Rain contributes more details to the map of Stafford's mid-western poems, which are (by turns and all at once) comic, grieving, bitter, nostalgic, philosophic, and matter-of-fact…. [There is] an edge in Stafford's work—besides the technical edge: he began as a poet proficient in traditional form, and can still cut a subtle quatrain or sonnet in A Glass Face in the Rain—that many people miss. True, his poems are generally peaceful and welcoming to the world's influence; but the messages they send are not naively affirmative. There is a threatening darkness within him, surrounding him: throughout his work he returns to the verge of an abyss, sometimes apocalyptic, sometimes psychological, sometimes (and most awfully) only natural. "Suppose this happens," a poem ends: "The world looks / tame, but might go wild, any time." (p. 90)

Is there a more exemplary poet among us? I don't think so. One doesn't have to choose between Stafford and Warren, of course: those are false alternatives. But they are useful extremes. Warren, with his novelistic flair, constantly and self-consciously dramatizes the relationship between himself and the world. Stafford rocks back on his haunches and lets the world come to him, wrestling with it not for mastery but merely for understanding. Warren paints huge, operatic, highly-charged Frederic Church landscapes; Stafford fills sketch-books with hundreds of watercolor studies, remarkable in their uninsistent vision, but never bothering to work them up into a sublime canvas…. [He] interposes no apparent intellectual veils between himself and the poem, or between his poem and the reader or hearer: no time for those games, "just being is a big enough job," the one great virtue. (p. 91)

Michael McFee, "Just Being," in Carolina Quarterly (© copyright 1983 Carolina Quarterly), Vol. XXXV, No. 3, Spring, 1983, pp. 88-91.

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