William Stafford’s ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ is a beautiful poem that highlights the power of “now”. This piece presents a set of images to point at the simple things of nature that give us inner satisfaction. Stafford draws the readers’ attention towards this simplicity inherent in nature as well as in human beings. Throughout their life, they wait for the right moment without even bothering about the importance of the present moment. Stafford guides readers to cherish each moment of their lives.
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‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ by William Stafford describes the significance of the moment in which we live.
This poem begins with a set of natural imagery. For example, Stafford refers to the creeping of sunlight on the floor, the scent of old wood, and the soft sounds that fill the air. By referring to these images, he sets the mood of the poem. Moving on to the following lines, his speaker highlights the fact that the most important gift of our lives is the air we breathe. One has to respect that gift without thinking about any worldly rewards. The moment people wait for never comes. It is up to them how they try to find exceptional satisfaction in the most ordinary of moments.
You can read the full poem here.
This poem is written in free verse as there is no set rhyme scheme or meter. The poem is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker. This poetic persona talks directly with those who are reading the text. He addresses them as “you”. It makes the poem sound like a dramatic monologue. Apart from that, this poem consists of 14 lines. The lines are separated into three quatrains and a couplet. Hence, the structure of this piece resembles that of a sonnet. The only difference is there are no rhyming lines or regular meter.
William Stafford’s ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ contains the following literary devices.
- Rhetorical Question: This piece contains several rhetorical questions. For example, the first quatrain consists of three such interrogations directed towards readers.
- Personification: It occurs in “How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?”
- Enjambment: This device is used throughout the poem. For example, readers can find the use of enjambment in “Will you ever bring a better gift for the world/ than the breathing respect that you carry/ wherever you go right now?”
- Alliteration: It occurs in the following phrases: “softened sound,” “bring a better,” etc.
- Epigram: The line “What can anyone give you greater than now,” contains an epigram. It highlights the importance of the present moment.
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
sound from outside fills the air?
The poem ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ begins with a rhetorical question. William Stafford is directly asking his readers what they want to remember. The phrase “Starting here” points at the present moment. In this poem, the poet uses a conversational scheme to make his point.
The following lines capture a set of images. Firstly, there is visual imagery of sunlight creeping along the floor. The “floor” is a metaphorical reference to the mind that shines in the aura of self-knowledge. Stafford also personifies the sunlight to refer to its slow movement.
There is olfactory imagery in the phrase “scent of old wood”. In the following line, Stafford refers to the soft sound of air. This line contains auditory imagery. Only a mindful person can hear the softened sound of air. It fills the heart with peace and satisfaction. Besides, there is a repetition of the soft “s” sound that also has a soothing effect on readers.
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
for time to show you some better thoughts?
The second quatrain of the poem presents two rhetorical questions. Firstly, the poet asks readers about the best “gift” of life: breathing. Nothing in this world can be a better gift to a human being than breathing. Our actions depend on this simple act of breathing. Nothing is out there that can substitute it. Only death can. If life is a precious gift, breathing is the benefactor.
Therefore the poet advises readers to respect that gift. Wherever a person is able to go, it is only possible for that gift. If he is still thinking about the things that can bring him happiness, in reality, he is wasting his precious time. People run after the temporary objects. They forget the value of simple things. According to the poet, they have to be more thankful for the things they already have.
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
The third quatrain deals with the advice of the poet. He refers to the point when our thinking has changed by his guidance. When one starts from that, he tries to see everything differently. He can realize the importance of the moment rather than wasting his time on the thoughts of the unseen future.
Stafford tells us to lift this new sensation, a glimpse of pure joy. We can carry this blissful thought into the evening. Here, the “evening” is a metaphorical reference to the days before death. To be specific, the “evening” is a hint at old age.
The moment we realize that the most precious gift is the life we got, our thinking process changes. Those who have been touched by the thoughts of the poet after reading or listening to this piece can cherish that learning throughout their life, until death.
In the last couplet, Stafford asks a rhetorical question in order to check whether his readers have understood his point or not. According to him, nobody can give a greater gift than the moment when a person reads this piece. When one turns around and looks back at his previous self, he can sense the difference.
The poem ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ was written in 1993. William Stafford died in the same year. Through this piece, he shares his lifelong experience briefly. The gist of his concept concerns “living life in the present”. In another poem written on the morning of his death, he writes,
You don’t have to
prove anything,’ my mother said. Just be ready
for what God sends
This piece also taps on a similar concept. In ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ he highlights the greatest gift of a lifetime, breathing. So, readers have to be always ready for whatever they have received from the almighty. This attitude towards life can make their mind more peaceful.
The meaning of this overall piece concerns the value of being in the present moment and cherishing the things the almighty gifted us.
William Stafford’s ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ taps on the themes of mindfulness, time, and happiness.
The main idea of this piece is that one has to be more concerned with the simple things of nature and the things they already have.
It is a free-verse sonnet and a lyric. Stafford wrote this piece in the form of a conversation between himself and the readers.
William Stafford died on August 28, 1993. He wrote the poem ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’ a few days before his death.
The following list contains a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in William Stafford’s lyrical piece ‘You Reading This, Be Ready’.
- ‘Now’ by Robert Browning – This lyrical sonnet explores the pleasure of life and love contained within one pure and perfect moment. Explore more Robert Browning poems.
- ‘Early One Morning’ by W.S. Merwin – This poem showcases an older man stuck in reminiscing about his younger days. Read more W.S. Merwin poems.
- ‘Praise Song for the Day’ by Elizabeth Alexander – It’s one of the presidential inaugural poems. This poem features how one can cherish the morning and be mindful of the things that contributed to nation-building. Explore more Elizabeth Alexander poems.
- ‘This Moment’ by Eavan Boland – This piece captures the liminal existence of a neighborhood. It taps on the themes of time and temporality. Read more Eavan Boland poems.
You can also read about these poems on life and fulfillment and the best-known poems on hope.