William Stafford, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
If you are enjoying this guest post, check out some of our other Literary reads, here.
About William Stafford
William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914. He received a BA and an MA from the University of Kansas at Lawrence and, in 1954, a PhD from the University of Iowa. During the Second World War, Stafford was a conscientious objector and worked in the civilian public service camps—an experience he recorded in the prose memoir Down My Heart (1947). He married Dorothy Hope Frantz in 1944; they had four children.
In 1948 Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. Though he traveled and read his work widely, he taught at Lewis and Clark until his retirement in 1980. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, was published when Stafford was forty-eight. It won the National Book Award in 1963. He went on to publish more than sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose. Among his many honors and awards were a Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Western States Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. In 1970, he was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position currently known as the Poet Laureate).
William Stafford, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.Source: Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice (Norwood House Press, 2013)