Kansas-born poet William Stafford’s verses are simple, direct moments of contemplation that take their cue from nature and marvel at mystery. A pacifist and a conscientious objector to the Second World War, Stafford worked in outdoor work camps during the war before later moving to Oregon and falling under the spell of the American West. In this poem, he uses the image of the light of a hermit living on an otherwise dark island across a river to pick up on feelings of solitude, loss and introspection.
Looking Across the River
We were driving the river road.
It was at night. “There’s the island,”
someone said. And we all looked across
at the light where the hermit lived.
“I’d be afraid to live there”—
it was Ken the driver who spoke.
He shivered and let us feel
the fear that made him shake.
Over to that dark island
my thought had already crossed—
I felt the side of the house
and the night wind unwilling to rest.
For the first time in all my life
I became someone else:
it was dark; others were going their way;
the river and I kept ours.
We came on home that night;
the road led us on. Everything
we said was louder—it was hollow,
and sounded dark like a bridge.
Somewhere I had lost someone—
so dear or so great or so fine
that I never cared again: as if
time dimmed, and color and sound were gone.
Come for me now, World—
whatever is near, come close.
I have been over the water
and lived there all alone.