The light along the hills in the morning
comes down slowly, naming the trees
white, then coasting the ground for stones to nominate.

Notice what this poem is not doing.

A house, a house, a barn, the old
quarry, where the river shrugs–
how much of this place is yours?

Notice what this poem is not doing.

Every person gone has taken a stone
to hold, and catch the sun. The carving
says, “Not here, but called away.”

Notice what this poem is not doing.

The sun, the earth, the sky, all wait.
The crowns and redbirds talk. The light
along the hills has come, has found you.

Notice what this poem has not done.

Analysis, meaning and summary of William Stafford's poem Notice What This Poem Is Not Doing


  1. the light cannot name the trees white…the poet does.

    What the poem “is not doing?” It is not doing anything. It is depending on contrivance. How do we feel at the end of this reading? like we have been cheated. Why not notice what this painting doesn’t say. Notice what this music doesn’t convey. Notice how this poem presents a paradox of abstraction that nobody likes. It does not follow my ars poetica- “a poem must not receive, it must do ”
    It’s a cop out.
    “no one cares how you take to flight…
    shut the fuck up about writing, and just write”

  2. Caroline Austin says:

    I think this is an ars poetica poem. It is telling you what a good poem does and doesn’t do. A good poem, per Stafford, doesn’t tell you how to feel about something, at least directly. It holds things up to the light. We make meaning from the world around us, but the poet offers new ways to find meaning.

  3. ea says:

    I just remembered what this poem has not done; it hasn’t died. Yes, credit me, Marcy Jarvis, with that brilliant thesis.

  4. ea says:

    yes, that has occurred to me, that it is not rhyming. But though I like non rhyming poems, I always feel a little like I am cheating when I write a straight free verse poem that uses nothing artistic in its delivery because I feel like I could just as well write it as a piece of prose and why bother with poetry and being somehow special. lol.

  5. ea says:

    I used to think I saw what this poem was not doing but I can not for the life of me see what it is now other than not pormoting itself. lol. I think what it is doing is describing very clearly the life (or job, if you will) of a poet or a poem. A good one, anyway.

  6. marilyn mckinstry says:

    i think stafford is saying that the stones, the light , the earth and water don’t have to tell you anything. their very being is enough. that people expect to be entertained and therefore we miss the whole point of life-that we are here now and should be present because nothing lasts .

  7. matthew finston says:

    Strafford uses rhetoric to denigrate Romantic poetry by suggesting that these poems about the beauty of nature do not have any depth. additionally, Stanford shows random images using the romantic style of poetry in order to suggest that Romantic poetry is filled with empty metaphors and meaningless themes. Furthermore, he uses the poetic structure in order to appeal to audiences whom appreciate poetry of this era and have also read poetry prior to his era, the romantic period.

  8. Weston says:

    Agreeing with a previous post, we are unnable to directly determine what the poem is NOT saying. In fact, these lines that seek to draw attention to the unnamed substance instead are used as a device to draw attention to what the poem IS doing. I believe that the poem, in talking about a cemetary and the beauty of the situation, and noticing as well that the narrator is directly referring to a “someone” leads us to believe that even in death, this person is not forgotten; au contraire, they are all but dead.

  9. Kayla McDonald says:

    I don’t understand it. What is it not doing? This does not appear to be a very good ode ppoem. I would know. We are studying ode poems at school in my English class.

  10. !LeaF! says:

    After some thought and consideration, this poem appears to be warning of the day of final judgement, as told in the book of Revelations. The light symbolizes God and, in the poem, everything the light touches is judged, or, “named”. “Every person gone [dead] has taken a stone to hold”, and “catch the sun [be judged]”. In the end, it makes a reference to the reader,the reader will be judged when “the light has found you”. All the poem has not done is actually warn the reader or speak of death or judgement day, whilst these are the main subjects of the poem. BTW My colleague and I are not religious at all.

  11. Kjirsten says:

    The poem is clearly not rhyming, or following similar structural conventions for poetry, but is rather using a form of prose and calling itself a poem.

  12. Mike McCulley says:

    Telling the reader to ‘Notice What This Poem Is Not Doing’ is an interesting device to draw focus on what the poem is doing. Then notice what the reader adds between the lines make connections and extensions. The poem itself is actually rather spare, yet it draws me in, or is that me drawing me in?

  13. Ty says:

    This poem is clearly not telling you what it is not doing. I’m pretty sure that’s the joke behind it.

  14. Jeremy says:

    This poem is clearly not laughing at dead children, though that is just my opinion. Some of you may find that this poem draws humor from the reality of child mortality, but personally, I do not.

  15. Sera says:

    What is it not doing… I dont see it.

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