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Biography of William Stafford

William Stafford

William Stafford (1914 - 1993)

William Edgar Stafford (January 17, 1914 - August 28, 1993) was an American poet and noted pacifist, as well as the father of the poet and essayist Kim Stafford. A long-time resident of Oregon, he and his writings are sometimes identified with the Pacific Northwest.

Early Years

He was born in Hutchison, Kansas, the oldest of three children in a highly literate family. During the Depression, his family moved from town to town in any effort to find work for his father. Stafford helped contribute to family income by delivering newspapers, working in the sugar beet fields, raising vegetables, and working as an electrician's mate.

He graduated from high school in the town of Liberal in 1933. After attending junior college, he received a B.A. from the University of Kansas in 1937. He was drafted into the United States armed forces in 1941, while pursuing his master's degree at the University of Kansas, when he became a conscientious objector. As a registered pacifist, he performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946 in the civilian public service camps, which consisted of forestry and soil conservation work in Arkansas, California, and Illinois for $2.50 per week. While working in California in 1944, he met and he married Dororthy Hope Frantz with whom he later had four children.

He received his M.A. from the University of Kansas in 1947. His master's thesis, the prose memoir Down In My Heart, was published in 1948 and described his experience in the forest service camps. That same year he moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. In 1954, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

Career as a Poet

One of the most striking features of his career is that he began publishing his poetry only later in life. His first major collection of poetry Travelling Through the Dark was published when he was forty-eight years old. It won the National Book Award the following year in 1963. The title poem is one of Stafford's most well known works. It describes an experience of encountering a recently killed doe on a mountain road. Before pushing the doe off into the canyon, the poet discovers that the doe was pregnant and the fawn inside the doe is still alive.

Stafford was known for his quiet daily ritual of writing and his focus on the ordinary. The gentle quotidian style of his poetry has been compared to Robert Frost. His poems are typically short, focusing on the earthy, accessible details appropriate to a specific locality. In a 1971 interview, Stafford said:

"I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along."

He was also a close friend and colloborator with the poet Robert Bly.

Despite his late start, he was a frequent contributor to magazines and anthologies and eventually published fifty-seven volumes of poetry. James Dickey called Stafford one of those poets "who pour out rivers of ink, all on good poems."

In 1970, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that is now known as Poet Laureate. In 1975, he was named Poet Laureate of Oregon. In 1980, he retired from Lewis and Clark College but continued to travel extensively and give public readings of his poetry. In 1992, he won the Western States Book Award for lifetime achievement in poetry.

He died in Lake Oswego, Oregon on August 28, 1993, having written a poem that morning containing the line "Be ready for what God sends." His works are archived at the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis and Clark College.

Biography by: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on William Stafford.

20 Poems written by William Stafford

The poems are by default sorted according to volume, but you can also choose to sort them alphabetically or by page views.

Volume | Alphabetically | Page Views | Comments | [First Lines]

First LineComments
When I face north a lost Cree
Day after day up there beating my wings Comments and analysis of Lit Instructor by William Stafford 11 Comments
Even in the cave of the night when you Comments and analysis of Waking at 3 a.m. by William Stafford 483 Comments
Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window.
I glanced at her and took my glasses Comments and analysis of When I Met My Muse by William Stafford 2 Comments
I put my foot in cold water
If you don't know the kind of person I am Comments and analysis of A Ritual To Read To Each Other by William Stafford 91 Comments
In line at lunch I cross my fork and spoon
In the late night listening from bed Comments and analysis of Thinking For Berky by William Stafford 459 Comments
It is time for all the heroes to go home
My family slept those level miles Comments and analysis of Across Kansas by William Stafford 2 Comments
Paw marks near one burrow show Graydigger Comments and analysis of Graydigger's Home by William Stafford 8 Comments
Some time when the river is ice ask me Comments and analysis of Ask Me by William Stafford 52 Comments
The light along the hills in the morning Comments and analysis of Notice What This Poem Is Not Doing by William Stafford 350 Comments
The light by the barn that shines all night
There is a country to cross you will Comments and analysis of For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid by William Stafford 6 Comments
Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
Traveling through the dark I found a deer Comments and analysis of Traveling Through The Dark by William Stafford 346 Comments
With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach

Books by William Stafford
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Stafford Info

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