A Message from the Wanderer

By William E. Stafford 1914–1993
Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

William Stafford, “A Message from the Wanderer” from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1998)

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Poet William E. Stafford 1914–1993

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Social Commentaries, Crime & Punishment

 William E. Stafford

Biography

"If you have been wondering where the articulate, readable poems have gone in the last third of the 20th century, you might start with [William] Stafford," declares Victor Howes of the Christian Science Monitor. A pacifist and one of "the quiet of the land," as he often describes himself, Stafford is known for his unique method of composition, his soft-spoken voice, and his independence from social and literary expectations. As

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Social Commentaries, Crime & Punishment

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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