What the river says

Via Jayne Lynn Stahl @ Huffington Post:
It was the poet Shelley who wrote that "the poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world." Not much has changed since he wrote those words nearly three hundred years ago.
But, after watching these most captivating minutes of video, one may certainly walk away with the sense of how poets change the world not merely by their words, but by their example.
Every War Has Two Losers is a documentary based on the journals of midwestern poet William Stafford who declared himself a conscientious objector to World War II and, from 1942 through 1946, was interned at the Civilian Public Service Camps as a pacifist. The film has already aired on selected PBS stations, and features some of this country's finest poets, W.S. Merwin, Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker, reading from Stafford's work.

Travelling Through the Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford
from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems


The William Stafford Memorial
Friends of William Stafford
William Stafford Archives