39. Assurance

William Stafford (photo by Steven Hind)

You will never be alone, you hear so deep

a sound when autumn comes. Yellow

pulls across the hills and thrums,

or the silence after lightning before it says

its names – and then the clouds’ wide-mouthed

apologies. You were aimed from birth:

you will never be alone. Rain

will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,

long aisles – you never heard so deep a sound,

moss on rock, and years. You turn your head –

that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.

The whole wide world pours down.

— William Stafford

William Stafford

William Stafford, one of the world’s most beloved poets, was born and raised in Kansas, starting his prolific poetic life in Hutchinson in 1914, and going on to receive his BA and MA from the University of Kansas. 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, including writer Kim Stafford. Stafford taught at Lewis and Clark College from 1948 until 1980. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, 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).

Special thanks to Kim Stafford for permission to include this poem, reprinted with permission of Graywolf Press.

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