William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph

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,
It 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 cellomansings@gmail.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 in 1963.

**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.

Two of my poems that relate this theme was when a poem found me: ODE TO THE ARTIST, Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park and the reflection on how it happened when it wrote me: Sometimes Poetry Happens: a poem about the mystery of creativity. I discuss these experiences in the last part of an interview posted on TMHome.

Karen Karns’ experience in the dome and subsequent poem, WHAT COULD BE MORE INTIMATE?, is another example of cognition-creation.

Maharishi calls the Veda the Constitution of the Universe, which continually manifests in a sequentially orderly manner. I have a poem describing those mechanics in Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Uni-verse as they unfolded into seven haiku forms.

You may also find these relevant: The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language and

Read a short introduction to Maharishi’s Vedic Science. For information on such courses at Maharishi University, visit Maharishi Vedic Science.

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9 Responses to “William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph”

  1. A profound poem from Karen Karns asks us — WHAT COULD BE MORE INTIMATE? | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] The discussion on Vedic cognition is very relevant here, discussed at the end of William Stafford’s last poem, “Are you Mr. William Stafford?“ […]


  2. William Stafford—The Way It Is | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] see William Stafford’s last poem: “Are you Mr. William Stafford?” also performed by Daniel […]


  3. Cellist and composer Daniel Sperry performs William Stafford’s poem, “The Way It Is” | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Enjoy other Stafford poems posted on The Uncarved Blog, some of which have also been recorded by Daniel Sperry like, William Stafford—You and Art, and the last poem he wrote the morning of the day he died: “Are you Mr. William Stafford?” […]


  4. William Stafford—Ask Me | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] 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?”. […]


  5. Thomas Merton’s golden poem, Song for Nobody | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] mentioned these references in a post about the last poem William Stafford wrote the morning of the day he […]


  6. Margot Says:

    Wow. I am silenced and feel a littl ashamed…. What an amazing mother he had!! “It’s for the best,” my mother said—”Nothing can
    ever be wrong for anyone truly good.” I am probably not good enough. Not good enough yet.

    And the apple does not fall far from the stem it seems.How he writes about the sunlight coming out and following his hand. I am far from that kind of invincible trust, that heightened level of consciousness.
    It reminds me of Sophie Scholl, that 22 old girl, who on her last day of life, when stepping out into the yeard, called out to her friends who were staying back “The sun is still shining”. That sun symbolized another eternal presence for her.

    Thankfully Stafford seemed to have completed his life more peacefully than her who died at the hands of the bad guys.


  7. Poets Kooser, Rexroth, and Glück describe their experiences with telescopes looking at the stars | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] to this poem, Telescope, Kooser describes how he wakes up early every morning to write. William Stafford used to do the same […]


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

    […] This poem was also later included in The Way It Is, New & Selected Poems. The last poem he wrote the day he would die introduces the book. You can read it in this blog post: William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph. […]


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

    […] Stafford was awake to that revelatory moment when each thread of thought presented itself to him. They would lead to unexpected associations and realizations. In the last poem he wrote the day he died, he said: You can’t tell when strange things with meaning will happen. […]


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