Below is the last poem William Stafford wrote in his Daily Writings, the morning of the day he died. He was 79 (Jan 17, 1914–Aug 28, 1993).
An unintended prophetic literary epitaph, you wonder if he knew on some deep level that his life was coming to a close?
In a way, the poem beautifully sums up his life as an awake poet, effortlessly creating (It was all easy) from the revelatory moment where, “For that instant, conceiving is knowing; the secret life in language reveals the very self of things.”*
Kim Stafford says a friend told him his father’s “imagination was tuned to the moment when epiphanies were just about to come into being.” Kim continues: At such a moment, ambition could be fatal to what we seek. Take a deep breath and wait. What seeks you may then appear.**
There is a reproduction of this poem in his own handwriting opposite the inside title of his posthumously published book, The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, William Stafford, Graywolf Press (1999).
There was no title to the handwritten poem, just the date of the entry, 28 August 1993. It appears on page 46, and underneath the date is the title:
“Are you Mr. William Stafford?”
“Are you Mr. William Stafford?”
“Yes, but. . . .”
Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that’s when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That’s when sunlight came from behind
a rock and began to follow my hand.
“It’s for the best,” my mother said—”Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good.”
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone. All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray; trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.
You can’t tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I’m [still] here writing it down
just the way it was. “You don’t have to
prove anything,” my mother said. “Just be ready
for what God sends.” I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.
Well, it was yesterday. And the sun came,
Listen to a beautiful musical rendition of this poem by Daniel Austin Sperry from his album: Cutting Loose ~ A Tribute To William Stafford. Follow him on Facebook.com/PoetrySandwich for updates and musical videos. Visit http://cellomansings.com. Buy the digital album online or email to order the CD email@example.com.
See William Stafford—The Way It Is, also recorded by Daniel Sperry, as well as William Stafford—You and Art. Enjoy other favorite Stafford poems posted on The Uncarved Blog.
*Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford, by Kim Stafford, Graywolf Press (2002), page 289, referencing his National Book Award Acceptance Speech.
**Ibid, page 136. “What seeks you may then appear” and in the poem, “Just be ready for what God sends” remind me of the ancient rishis, the Vedic seers who were so awake inside that they heard the Veda humming to itself within their own consciousness; they cognized the richas, the hymns of the Veda that sought them out.
That quality of wakefulness, innocence and readiness—a subtle receptivity to what may be given, or realized, is described in Rk Veda, 5.44.14: Yo jagara tam richa kamayante. He who is awake, the richas seek him out. (Peter Freund’s Favorite Sanskrit Expressions, page 3.)
See Maharishi Mahesh Yogi describe the process of Vedic cognition during a 1976 European symposium on Science and Consciousness: He Who Is Awake the Hymns Seek Him Out.