W William Stafford

An Introduction to Some Poems by William Stafford

William Stafford’s ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ is about the role of budding poets. The speaker says that every life is worth writing about, and a writer’s work is to share “authentic” human experiences.

An Introduction to Some Poems by William Stafford Visual Representation

‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ is written by William Edgar Stafford, an American poet, and pacifist. This poem is included in his posthumous collection entitled The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, published in the year 1998. The collection gathers unpublished works from the last years of Stafford’s life. Stafford authored more than 50 books of poetry and is one of the esteemed poets of 20th-century America. He is known for his method of composition, his soft-spoken voice, and his independence from social and literary expectations.

An Introduction to Some Poems by William Stafford


Summary

‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ by William Stafford teaches a great deal about the role of poetry, human feelings, a profound encounter with some personal conflicts, and also some bitter truth.

The poem somewhere speaks from the insight of a person who has seen war, destruction, isolation in his life. The speaker discusses some original topics that everyone experiences in their life. As the poem begins, we can feel like the poet is directly speaking to us, showing us what he does. He explains a writer’s role in society. Stafford represents a generation of writers who saw the World Wars. They do not celebrate humanity but moan about the loss of lives in the war through their works. The art of writing is like dreaming to others. They share the truthful experiences recollected from lost tales in human history. According to the speaker, they do not write for either “revenge” or “fame.” Instead, they write to hold together the fundamental essence of humanity.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Look: no one ever promised for sure

(…) 

have to carry on.

William Stafford’s poem ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ begins with a direct address to readers. The speaker urges readers to consider his points regarding the role of writers. He says that no one ever promised a life full of lilies, not even God, because it is totally senseless to lead a life without the highs and lows. The responsibility of making the right decision is up to the writers who can either choose to praise humanity or mourn the present condition of humankind.

Stafford compares the art of writing poetry with a dance style that one can master after learning the steps and practicing them. Life is the same; it asks for effort and determination; the speaker says, “we have to carry on.” It means that poets have to go on without intervention in order to make people realize their faults. In this way, Stafford compares writing poetry to a sort of social responsibility, a duty towards humanity.

Stanza Two

Just as in sleep you have to dream 

(…) 

edge we share, to be right.

In the second stanza, the speaker explains that just as dreams are essential in life, so are the efforts that we put in order to achieve the dream. The term “to round out” means to make something complete. In order to make dreams complete, Stafford tells us to keep them close so as always to remember what we always dreamt of. Writers live their dreams through their stories and hold them close to us.

We have to live our dreams like a story and bring them to a happy ending. Life without a dream is useless and pointless. One must have dreams and must focus on them in order to reach their goal. Eventually, it would make life more meaningful. Writers and dreamers share the same “edge” in society; the former inspires us to dream, and the latter act as an inspiration for the writers.

Stanza Three

We find it an awful thing to meet people,

(…)

enough to follow them out.

In the first few lines of the third stanza, the poet tries to point out some people whose condition makes him feel pity for them. They were once serious about their goals and believed in their dreams. In the present scenario, they are turned into “vacant effective people.” Those people are so lost in the world that they no longer value their own feelings. According to Stafford, writers have to follow them out and learn from their experiences.

Several events took place in the first half of the 20th-century. Some of the events shaped people’s thought processes, while others negatively impacted them. The changes that took place were either positive or negative. Some people gained confidence while others lost. Most of them started to lose hope and got demotivated to a point where “they won’t believe their own feelings.”

Stanza Four

The authentic is a line from one thing

(…)

swerves for revenge,

In this stanza, Stafford refers to a number of ideas by the adjective “authentic.” He probably refers to genuine emotions; the originality one should have, human experiences, and many more. As one delves deeper into the lines, they come across hints to several aspects of life.

The term “authentic” means to be original and genuine. One has to equate it with genuine human emotions and experiences. To be original in a literary work, a writer needs to find “authentic” stories. Such experiences interest the poet the most as they have some lessons for the future generation.

According to the speaker, when one writes truthful, realistic poems, that “works” in the creation of a better future. Furthermore, he says that poetry never changes its course of direction in order to seek revenge. Instead, it is meant to correct flaws in human beings. In this way, Stafford taps on the didactic role of art.

Stanza Five

Or profit, or fame: it holds

(…)

Good: now it is time.

In the last stanza of ‘An Introduction to Some Poems,’ Stafford continues by saying that the genuineness of an artist is never meant for materialistic achievements, like “revenge,” “profit,” or “fame.” These three things are the most sought after. When we are steadfast in every respected field of life, the world will be a better place to live.

The speaker’s love for art is also reflected in this stanza as the emotion never seeks revenge or profit. It always encourages selflessness and pureness. Compassion and brotherhood hold the world together. According to the speaker, if each one of us is responsible, true to others, and loves without any expectations in return, the world would sustain for a longer time.

This goal is hard to follow as the speaker says, “we are your wavery/ efforts at following it.” The last lines suggest that he jots down his views on the role of art and artists. If one compassionate reader can relate to him, they are good to go on with the other poems in The Way It Is. At last, the poet says that it is time to follow his thought-process in the subsequent poems, not to wait further.

Structure

‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ is very roughly structured with no definite rhyming pattern to be followed or a metrical scheme. The poem is written in the free-verse form and consists of five stanzas, each stanza containing five lines. Though it doesn’t follow any specific rhyming pattern, readers can find a few instances of internal rhymings. The length of the lines is also irregular.

Alongside that, Stafford writes this piece from the first-person point of view, as he uses “we” throughout the poem. He directly addresses the readers by using the pronoun “you.” The use of “we” instead of “I” indicates that the poet represents all the modern poets/writers. He does not write this poem as an individual but with a collective mindset.

Literary Devices

Stafford is known for his unique style of versification. On the first examination, his poems may appear simple in style and tone, but they have more profound layers of complexity and possess several meanings. In his poem ‘An Introduction to Some Poems,’ Stafford makes use of the following literary devices:

  • Enjambment: The poem is full of continuing lines, with a number of punctuations in between them. A line ends, and from the same place, the following line is continued like a paragraph. This pattern can be seen in the lines: “Or profit or fame: it holds/ together something more than the world,” “And we are your wavery/ efforts at following it. Are you coming?/ Good: now it is time,” etc.
  • Simile: It can be found in the line: “Just as in sleep you have to dream.” Here, Stafford uses “as” in order to make readers clearly understand the similarity between dreaming and writing.
  • Assonance: The vowel sound “au” can be repeatedly heard in the line: “the exact dream to round out your life.”
  • Consonance: The consonant sound of “t” is repeated in these lines: “to moan. In a strange dance that/ We don’t understand till we do it, we/ have to carry on.”
  • Extended Metaphor: The poet uses this device to open the text to different interpretations. In the line, “strange dance that we don’t understand,” the poet does not talk about the actual dance. He compares writing poetry to the art of dancing. Then, he explains it more by saying, “till we do it, we/ have to carry on,” which implies that poets do not get to know their role till they start writing.
  • Irony: The poet suggests something essential, and he himself ironically disagrees with his statement in these lines, “strangely, it relates to what works,/ but is not quite the same.”


Historical Context

William Edgar Stafford (1914–1993) grew up in the American midwest at the time of the Great Depression. He is known for his gentle, mystical, half-mocking, and highly personal daydreaming about the western United States. Later, he drafted himself into the US armed forces during World War II. Being a pacifist, William Stafford’s poems talk about the horrors of war, suffering, and some bittersweet truths of humanity and that of America. He also served as Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.

His poem ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ was first published in The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems in 1998. This collection includes some poems written by him in the year of his death. His poems were slightly different from other modernist poets as he kept himself apart from the contemporary artistic trends and politics.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ about?

William Stafford’s ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’ is about various roles of a poet/writer. Budding writers should try to implement the poet’s humanistic ideals in their life as well as writing. Besides, the poem also talks about love and compassion, the way one sees life, the right thing to do, and the dreams one should act upon.

What is the theme of ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’?

The central theme of the poem is “every life is worth writing for,” no matter if it is depressing or joyful. No individual is less important or less valued in poetry. This poem also talks about the current problems that humankind is going through. Another theme of this piece is one writer’s perspective towards life, genuine feelings, and personal thoughts. Writing is not only about materialistic gain, revenge, or fame; it is something so large that sustains the world; “it holds together something more than the world,” that is humanity. These lines tell us that the poet wants budding writers to be fine with their choice of writing. Although at first, it may seem weird and confusing, gradually, they will pick up the pace.

What does William Stafford suggest in ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’?

In this poem, Stafford suggests having positive thoughts towards life. Though at first, it may seem a little hard, eventually, we will pick up our pace. He also suggests what the role of poets should be in respect to the contemporary situation of humankind.

Why does Stafford use the words “Look” and “Good” in the first and last lines of ‘An Introduction to Some Poems’?

Stafford uses “Look” in the first and “Good” in the concluding lines with the same punctuation marks. It denotes that the speaker of this poem addresses readers directly and personally to consider his views on the role of poets/writers.

What is William Stafford known for?

William Stafford is known for his simplistic ideas about complex things. He can be silent and can scream at the same time. Stafford’s poems have the power to leave a lasting mark in the hearts of readers. His poems are primarily asymmetric with no accented meters.


Similar Poems

The following list contains a number of poems that tap on similar themes present in William Stafford’s ‘An Introduction to Some Poems.’

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An Introduction to Some Poems by William Stafford Visual Representation
Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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