River Ice and William Stafford

American poet William Stafford (1914-1993)
American poet William Stafford (1914-1993) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh the weather outside is . . . actually it’s been rather freakish. We’ve gone from single digits three days ago to 60 degrees (Fahrenheit) yesterday to blustery wind and snow squalls today. Pennsylvania is one of those places in which they say, “If you don’t like the weather here, wait a minute.” Unless of course it was last week and the week before when we seemed to be in a perpetual cold snap.

So my plans to get photos of the Susquehanna frozen over came to naught this week, or more specifically to slush. I was thinking that it’s been since 2007 since she has been completely iced over, but I am told just two years ago we had a good freeze also. The memory fades. It must be the cold.

It does look like there are some good spots where, at least from the road, the water appears mostly solid on the North Branch Danville. And my youngest son, the Monkey up north, got some photos (which I have yet to see! Ah hem!) of the frozen West Branch at Lock Haven. But unfortunately I was driving south with my optical equipment this weekend.

So for now I bring you a few shots from other bloggers and other years. One comes from the York Blog, and the other two from Bee Balm of Kaivalya, who teaches at the University in my old home town.

All of this trekking about looking for river ice was in hopes of finally producing a video reading of “Ask Me,” by poet William Stafford. If I do manage to get some good ice river footage I will record a YouTube version of this, but for now below is my reading on SoundCloud, a great little site I’ve been experimenting with.

I first heard this poem read by Stafford himself, well not in person, but via video in an English class in Indiana, circa 1992, about a year before Stafford’s death. I was so impressed with this man’s quiet wisdom, not to mention his gift for metaphor. I wish I had heard him read live. I haven’t been able to find his reading of this anywhere online, so in honor of Stafford, and the poem that got me hooked on his work, here we go.

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Ask Me

by William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.  Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

“Ask Me” copyright 1977, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford.
From The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems
Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota

16 Comments Add yours

  1. I like the photos but I got no audio. Is it just me?


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Perhaps, perhaps not. I double checked the settings. It’s set to public. Sometimes I’ve noticed it takes an extra moment or two for a Soundcloud file to show up on a page from my very old slow laptop. Try refreshing the page. Then scroll to the spot just below the pictures, but above the text of the poem. See if it takes a moment for the sound file to appear.


    2. sonofwalt says:

      Let me know if it worked, please! 🙂 I get so upset that every time a friend of mine in the UK posts a link to a BBC video, it’s “not available in my country.” So I hope that’s not the case here.


  2. The soundcloud didn’t work on another blog I follow and that is when I discovered – blush – I had accidentally put the mute on!

    Works fine, and worth the wait 🙂


  3. slpmartin says:

    Once again really enjoyed your reading…and forgive Tilly…she had a great scare this morning…a spider in her office. 😉


  4. ManicDdaily says:

    Stafford wonderful =in upstate ny right now – weather changing by hour. k.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Haha, yup, not that far from me, but colder. 🙂


  5. John says:

    Really nice reading of this poem. Very, very nice.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      You and Gina made me smile tonight. Thank you. I needed that.


  6. simplyjoshuajames says:

    ‘“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours” – Alan Bennett

    I have to say D. I experienced that with this post. The reading was beautiful and it appears a new poem has made it into my list of favourites. Every time you do a reading I am amazed. I always thing the latest on is the best but then you do a new one and it just becomes a loop!

    I hope you don’t mind but I clicked the download link as that would be great to have on my Iphone for when I’m travelling around and am in need of something wonderful to listen to 🙂

    Thank you for sharing it!


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Are you kidding? I’m thrilled that you downloaded it. That, sir was just the amazing sort of compliment this tired guy needed this morning. In an hour I’ll be reading at the Priestly Chapel, and your encouragement brightened my morning.

      I love the quote also. Who was it that said poetry was “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.” Thank you, Josh! I’m glad you like that poem, it’s one that I memorized long ago. As a lover of good metaphor, It really gets to me.


    2. simplyjoshuajames says:

      I swear down you should record and sell your readings on Itunes or do a podcast of some sort!!! I’m sure the quote was Alexander Pope, Not 100 percent sure though. I really wish I was close enough to come to the readings, You have the perfect voice for any reading it seems. Good luck with your readings this morning and I’ll be around whenever you fancy a chat 🙂


  7. Thanks for including my essay in your list of related articles. Always nice to meet another Stafford fan.



    1. I love the connections made possible by that Zemanta tool! Thank you for commenting. And yes, I swear that man’s book, An Oregon Message, now worn and tattered, and coincidentally sitting right here on my coffee table, well it sorta saved my soul while I was in Indiana alone all those years ago. 🙂 So glad to have met you, Marci.


    2. Thank you. I had the honor of meeting Mr. Stafford after a reading at Oberlin College; he signed my copy of “Writing the Australian Crawl.” His son is as gracious a spirit as his father; so pleased he allowed me to reprint the poem.

      Cheers to you, Marci


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