William Stafford’s “A Walk in the Country”

The poet William Stafford came to the University of North Florida while I was a student there.  I bought his most recent collection, Stories That Could Be True.  (It’s still on my shelf, and it still holds his shaky signature on the title page.) Later, I backpacked on the Appalachian Trail.  I had been out about a week, and my toes were slowly mutating off my feet from the new hiking boots I had failed to break in.  So I came off the trail and stayed in a tiny motel in Suches, Georgia.  For some reason, I want to say it cost $12.00 for that night.  There was no TV, and I may have been the only customer.  I took Stafford’s collection with me, and I remember reading “A Walk in the Country” and really being taken by it.  I felt like Stafford understood how I felt about my life at the time.

If you’re interested in William Stafford, check out this 1993 Paris Review interview.

Here’s the poem:

A Walk in the Country

By William Stafford

To walk anywhere in the world, to live
now, to speak, to breathe a harmless
breath: what snowflake, even, may try
today so calm a life,
so mild a death?

Out in the country once,
walking the hollow night,
I felt a burden of silver come:
my back had caught moonlight
pouring through the trees like money.

That walk was late, though.
Late, I gently came into town,
and a terrible thing had happened:
the world, wide, unbearably bright,
had leaped on me. I carried mountains.

Though there was much I knew, though
kind people turned away,
I walked there ashamed—
into that still picture
to bring my fear and pain.

By dawn I felt all right;
my hair was covered with dew;
the light was bearable; the air
came still and cool.
And God had come back there
to carry the world again.

Since then, while over the world
the wind appeals events,
and people contend like fools,
like a stubborn tumbleweed I hold,
hold where I live, and look into every face:

Oh friends, where can one find a partner
for the long dance over the fields?

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One response to “William Stafford’s “A Walk in the Country”

  1. Thanks for posting William Stafford’s “A Walk in the Country.” I’m writing about breath and breathing and was searching thru William Stafford’s archives for mentions of breath in his poems. I had the first line only and a search on “To walk anywhere in the world, to live / now, to speak, to breathe a harmless / breath” turned up your web site. I used to own Stories That Could Be True. I miss it. I hope to own a copy again soon. Again thanks. – Charlie

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