William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. He received a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Kansas at Lawrence and, in 1954, a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. During the Second World War, Stafford was a conscientious objector and worked in the civilian public service camps-an experience he recorded in the prose memoir Down My Heart (1947). He married Dorothy Hope Frantz in 1944; they had four children.
In 1948 Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. Though he traveled and read his work widely, he taught at Lewis and Clark until his retirement in 1980. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, was published when Stafford was forty-eight. It won the National Book Award in 1963. He went on to publish more than sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose. Among his many honors and awards were a Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Western States Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. In 1970, he was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position currently known as the Poet Laureate).
Stafford's poems are often deceptively simple. Like Robert Frost's, however, they reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination. James Dickey, writing in his book Babel to Byzantium, notes that Stafford's "natural mode of speech is a gentle, mystical, half-mocking and highly personal daydreaming about the western United States." Among his best-known books are The Rescued Year (1966), Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (1977), Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation (1978), and An Oregon Message (1987). William Stafford died at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on August 28, 1993.
It is time for all the heroes to go home if they have any, time for all of us common ones to locate ourselves by the real things we live by.
Far to the north, or indeed in any direction, strange mountains and creatures have always lurked- elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders:-we encounter them in dread and wonder,
But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold, found some limit beyond the waterfall, a season changes, and we come back, changed but safe, quiet, grateful.
Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills while strange beliefs whine at the traveler's ears, we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love where we are, sturdy for common things.
At the Bomb Testing Site
At noon in the desert a panting lizard waited for history, its elbows tense, watching the curve of a particular road as if something might happen.
It was looking at something farther off than people could see, an important scene acted in stone for little selves at the flute end of consequences.
There was just a continent without much on it under a sky that never cared less. Ready for a change, the elbows waited. The hands gripped hard on the desert.
At The Un-National Monument Along The Canadian Border
This is the field where the battle did not happen, where the unknown soldier did not die. This is the field where grass joined hands, where no monument stands, and the only heroic thing is the sky.
Birds fly here without any sound, unfolding their wings across the open. No people killed – or were killed – on this ground hallowed by neglect and an air so tame that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.
For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid
There is a country to cross you will find in the corner of your eye, in the quick slip of your foot--air far down, a snap that might have caught. And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing voice that finds its way by being afraid. That country is there, for us, carried as it is crossed. What you fear will not go away: it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you. That's the world, and we all live there.
Every War Has Two Losers, documentary based on the work of William Stafford