Poetry

William Stafford – A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

– William Stafford


The importance of honesty and conscious communication between people is the concern of William Stafford in his poem, A Ritual to Read to Each Other. We must endeavor, he urges, to rise above the patterns set out for us by others and not follow in a line like elephants holding each other’s tails; it is important then that ‘awake people be awake’ since ‘the darkness around us is deep’. The poem comes from a collection called The Way It Is, a compilation of Stafford’s work written in the last year of his life that was published posthumously. It also includes You Reading This, Be Ready, which was written just days before his death.


 

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

 


William Stafford

From: The Way It Is

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