William E. Stafford

You Reading This, Be Ready

‘What can anyone give you greater than now?’ is a question at the heart of William Stafford’s work, and at the core of our lives. You Reading This, Be Ready is a call to ‘turn around’ and wake up to the now, to respect the moment you find yourself in, from one breath to the next. The poem’s simplicity, like Stafford’s other work, embodies a directness that points to the essential with a kind of urgency and an enduring sense of awe. He wrote this poem three days before his death in 1993.


Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?


William Stafford (1914-1993)
From – Ask me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford

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