Aphorisms by William Stafford

William Stafford is often classified as a “Western” poet, much in the same way that Robert Frost is classified as a “New England” poet. In fact, the poetry of the two men is similar in many respects: a concern with the natural world, a focus on the quotidian, and a dedication to clear, almost conversational speech. I had no idea that Stafford, who died in 1993, also wrote aphorisms, until Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog alerted me. Stafford’s aphorisms are a lot like his poems—deceptively prosaic and dwelling on seemingly insignificant details that suddenly open a panoramic vista onto the wild west of the human spirit.

The selection below comes from Stafford’s “Aphorisms,” which is included in In Pieces: An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing (Impassio Press, 2006) edited by Olivia Dresher.

My thanks to Jim Finnegan for sharing Stafford’s aphorisms with me. If you like thinking about poetry, check out his ursprache blog.

It is legitimate to crawl, after the wings are broken.

Every mountain has that one place when you begin to know it is a mountain.

Lost pioneers were the ones who found the best valleys.

If there is a trail, you have taken a wrong turn.

I hear the clock’s little teeth gnawing at time.

At first it’s not much of a river.