William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken.

My son sent me a link to a quote by William Stafford that Michael Meade had posted on his Instagram. I couldn’t find the source. Perhaps it may have come from a personal correspondence between the two friends.

“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” — William Stafford

The Japanese art of kintsugi

The quote and background image remind me of kintsugi or kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pieces of pottery using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. The piece becomes stronger and more beautiful than the original because of its unique imperfections.

To me, this serves as a metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges, scars and all, which build character. When I first saw a piece of repaired broken Japanese pottery using this method, it inspired a poem using one of the forms of Japanese poetry—kintsugi tanka.

A poet of peace

William Stafford responded creatively and with integrity to the challenges life sent his way. He remained true to his voice as a conscientious objector, poet of peace, and the innovative way he taught writing.

A realist on the human condition, his poems made us think, as in A Ritual to Read to Each Other, from his poetry collection, Traveling through the Dark, which won the National Book Award in 1963.

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.

Following the thread

During his early morning writing, Stafford subscribed to the approach of William Blake’s golden string.

“I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”

As any persistent writer will tell you, when they finally “get it right,” there’s a feeling of euphoria, the metaphorical equivalent of entering “Heaven’s gate.”

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.

Speaking of weaving together a parachute from everything broken, this most popular poem by Stafford, and my favorite, talks about holding onto an unseen thread that’s woven throughout all of life’s experiences.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Coincidentally, I came across a quote from the Vedic literature that takes this idea of an uncommon thread and extends it to a cosmic thread.

He who knows the fine-drawn thread of which the creatures that we see are spun, who knows the thread of that same thread—he also knows Brahman, the Ultimate. (Atharva Veda Samhita 10.8.37)

Other favorite poems by William Stafford

I’ve posted some of William Stafford’s poetry and his approach to teaching writing on The 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: Identity.

The last poem he had written the day he died, August 28, 1993, was “Are you Mr. William Stafford?”. It was featured and published posthumously in The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by Graywolf Press in 1999, which was how I first discovered it.

Years later I had a realization about that last poem and created this memorial post including insightful quotes into Stafford’s creative process with related links: William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph.

When it comes to student-centered teaching, I featured William Stafford and other trailblazers of the writing process in this related blog post: The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

Related posts on this topic

Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within

Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything—how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity.

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2 Responses to “William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken.”

  1. kintsugi: japanese pottery inspires poetry | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Another post on this theme: William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken. […]

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

    […] This post sheds additional light on this subject: William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken. […]

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