"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another Short Poem By William Stafford



An excellent motto, one of my lifelong favorites: "Some haystacks don't even have any needle." But some friends I mentioned it to recently immediately objected to my choice, finding it "utterly depressing." I was confused! This is a hopeful little poem, full of optimism. But no matter how I defended it, my audience just couldn't see how. They said, "Searching and searching forever and never finding anything? How is that optimistic?"

Now this was bewildering indeed! I was first attracted to these William Stafford poems back in high school when we studied from a poetry book entitled Some Haystacks Don't Even Have Any Needle. I was so taken with this anthology that I squirreled my copy away at the end of the year, claiming to have lost it, so that I could pay the replacement fine and keep the book to myself. A few years later, William Stafford came to speak at my college and I was honored to interview him for our literary magazine and ask him to autograph my book, the title of which was taken from his sequence of short poems included as the anthology's closing selection.

So, back to the present, why was the message suddenly coming across all wrong?

Then I had a "Eureka" moment and realized that the reader needs the title of the poem in order to grasp its liberating message that you don't always have to be searching for a needle in a haystack, performing a goal - oriented task, or striving for a particular outcome. Sometimes you can just take the haystack for what it is (think Monet), maybe even jump into the haystack with joy, as into a snowdrift or a pile of leaves, and with confidence that there's nothing hidden there to hurt you, no puzzle to solve.

At last, here's the poem complete with title:


Some haystacks don't even have any needle."

(short poem by William Stafford)

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Tree Wins


Short poem by William Stafford:

Gravity -- what's that?"

When we first moved here, we hired a tree trimmer to assess the entire yard, which was a mess. We observed that the original owners who planted that oak tree as a nice finishing touch to their front yard a hundred years ago probably never envisioned that it would flourish to the point of one day nearly obscuring the front of the house. Our tree guy just shrugged his shoulders and delivered his conclusion: "The tree wins. It'll be here long after we're gone."

Always nice to have a bit of existentialism thrown in with your tree service! Since then, whenever we're faced with the inevitable, we look at each other, shrug like the tree guy, and acknowledge the truth: "The tree wins."


1. Another short poem by William Stafford:

We think it is calm here,
or that the storm is the right size."

2. September 2013

"But on the other hand, and I can't really understand why, I do care about the birch trees. . . . all the swaying, rustling birch trees and I felt light, so light.

"After I'd had a chance to think about it for a while I began to understand why I felt this sudden joy . . . when anyone talks about trees, any trees: the linden tree in the farmyard, the oak behind the old barn, the stately elms that have all disappeared now, the pine trees along wind - swept coasts, etc. There's so much humanity in a love of trees, so much nostalgia for our first sense of wonder, so much power in just feeling our own insignificance when we are surrounded by nature -- yes, that's it: just thinking about trees and their indifferent majesty and our love for them teaches us how ridiculous we are -- vile parasites squirming on the surface of the earth -- and at the same time how deserving of life we can be, when we can honor this beauty that owes us nothing. . . . I suddenly felt my spirit expand, for I was capable of grasping the utter beauty of the trees."
(169 - 70)

from The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
See more on my bookblog: "Girls of Summer"

3. February 2017

"At 83, Sibelius said, 'For the first time I have lately become aware of the fact that the period of our earthly existence is limited. During the whole of my life this idea has never actually come into my mind. It occurred to me very distinctly when I was looking at an old tree there in the garden. When we came it was very small, and I looked at it from above. Now it waves high above my head and seems to say, "You will soon depart, but I shall stay here for hundreds more years." ' " (149)

from The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead
by David Shields