William Stafford—Ask Me

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

See a cosmic expression of how the river relates to Hafiz’s life in his poem, A River Understands, in my year-end post Winding up the year with inspiration from Hafiz.

See other poems by William Stafford posted here.

UPDATE (May 1, 2018): A little over seven years since posting this poem, I found a video of him reading it. William Stafford was a guest speaker at the City Club of Portland on July 25, 1986. He spoke about writing and teaching, read some of his poems, and answered questions. The video, listed as You Must Revise Your Life, the title of his new poetry book at the time, was the first book I had ever read of his. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me as a writer. He concluded with reading Ask Me. It’s one of my favorite Stafford poems along with The Way It Is, You and Art, When I Met My Muse, Something That Happens Right Now, and others posted on my blog, including the last poem he wrote the day he died, “Are you Mr. William Stafford?”.

Henry Lyman interviewed William Stafford for NPR’s series, Poems to a Listener, later posted on YouTube. Stafford reads several of his poems, including Ask Me. The wonderful discussion that follows this poem is about how Stafford turns “mistakes” into lines of poetry.

I later found him read Ask Me at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College’s Distinguished Poets Series in 1986.

3 Responses to “William Stafford—Ask Me”

  1. Winding up the year with inspiration from Hafiz | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] poem about a river is beautifully told by William Stafford in his poem, Ask Me, where he looks to the stillness in the river to inform him, and the person asking him about his […]


  2. William Stafford prescribed creative writing to find your own voice and reveal your inner light | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] to be very relevant. Here are a few that caught my attention: When I Met My Muse, You and Art, Ask Me, and A Course in Creative […]


  3. William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken. | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Uncarved Blog. A few of those poems that stand out for me are: When I Met My Muse, You and Art, Ask Me, The Way It Is, A Course in Creative Writing, and Rx Creative Writing: […]


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