'Ask Me' by William Stafford

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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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Ask Me" by William Stafford

Are you familiar with "Ask Me" by William Stafford, the renowned poet and pacifist? If not, do yourself a favor and take a moment to read this beautiful and thought-provoking poem. It's only 12 lines long, but it's packed with meaning and imagery that will stay with you long after you've finished reading.

Context and Background

Before we dive into the poem itself, let's take a moment to explore the context and background of William Stafford. He was born in Kansas in 1914 and grew up in the Great Depression. He served in World War II as a conscientious objector, and his experiences during the war influenced much of his later work as a poet. Stafford became known for his simple and direct style, often using everyday language to explore complex themes. "Ask Me" is a prime example of this style.


At first glance, "Ask Me" may seem like a simple poem about nature. It begins with the speaker inviting the reader to "some time when the river is ice ask me" about various natural phenomena: the way the sunlight shimmers on the water, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the tracks of animals in the snow. But as we read on, we begin to realize that there's more going on here than meets the eye.

The invitation to "ask me" is more than just an offer to share knowledge about the natural world. It's an invitation to connect with the speaker on a deeper level, to engage in a dialogue about the mysteries of life. The river, sunlight, wind, and animals are all symbols for larger concepts: the flow of time, the beauty of existence, the power of nature, and the interconnectedness of all living things.

When the speaker says "I may know / what the law of moses means," he's not referring to the biblical figure. Instead, he's using Moses as a metaphor for wisdom and spiritual insight. He's saying that he may have a deeper understanding of the world than what meets the eye, and he's willing to share that understanding with anyone who asks.

The final line of the poem, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?" is a call to action. It's a reminder that life is short and precious, and that we should make the most of it while we can. The speaker is urging us to think about our goals and dreams, and to take steps toward making them a reality. It's a powerful message that resonates with readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Literary Criticism

From a literary standpoint, "Ask Me" is a masterful work of poetry. It's written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter, which gives it a natural and conversational tone. The language is simple and direct, but the imagery is rich and evocative. The use of symbolism and metaphor adds depth and complexity to the poem, while the final line gives it a sense of urgency and purpose.

One of the most striking things about "Ask Me" is its ability to connect with readers on a personal level. The poem speaks to universal themes and experiences that are relevant to everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs. It's a testament to the power of poetry to transcend boundaries and bring people together.

In conclusion, "Ask Me" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that deserves to be read and appreciated by all. Its message of connection, wisdom, and action is as relevant today as it was when it was written over 50 years ago. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and take a moment to experience its power and beauty for yourself.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Ask Me: A Masterpiece of William Stafford

Poetry is a form of art that has been around for centuries. It is a way of expressing emotions, thoughts, and ideas through words. William Stafford, a renowned American poet, has contributed significantly to the world of poetry. One of his most famous works is the poem "Poetry Ask Me." This masterpiece is a reflection of Stafford's love for poetry and his belief in its power to connect people. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem "Poetry Ask Me" in detail.

The poem "Poetry Ask Me" is a short but powerful piece of literature. It consists of only six lines, but each line is packed with meaning. The poem begins with the line "Why do you write poetry?" This question is directed towards the poet, and it sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is asking the poet to explain why he writes poetry, and the poet responds with a series of metaphors.

The first metaphor used by the poet is "Because poetry is like bread." This metaphor compares poetry to bread, which is a staple food item. Bread is essential for survival, and poetry is essential for the soul. Poetry nourishes the mind and the heart, just like bread nourishes the body. The poet is saying that he writes poetry because it is necessary for his well-being.

The second metaphor used by the poet is "And everyone wants bread." This metaphor emphasizes the universality of poetry. Just like everyone needs bread, everyone needs poetry. Poetry is not just for the elite or the educated; it is for everyone. The poet is saying that he writes poetry because he wants to connect with people from all walks of life.

The third metaphor used by the poet is "And I am a citizen of a country that wants more and more bread." This metaphor highlights the poet's role as a citizen. He is not just a poet; he is a member of society. The poet is saying that he writes poetry because he wants to contribute to society. He wants to create something that will benefit others.

The fourth metaphor used by the poet is "We are hungry for more than food." This metaphor expands on the idea of poetry as nourishment. The poet is saying that people are not just hungry for food; they are hungry for something more. They are hungry for meaning, for connection, for beauty. Poetry satisfies this hunger.

The fifth metaphor used by the poet is "We are hungry for poetry." This metaphor brings the poem full circle. The speaker asked the poet why he writes poetry, and the poet has answered with a series of metaphors. The final metaphor emphasizes the importance of poetry. People are hungry for poetry because it satisfies a deep need within them.

The final line of the poem is "In a time when bread is often not even bread." This line is a commentary on the state of the world. The poet is saying that in a world where things are not always what they seem, poetry is a constant. Poetry is real, and it is necessary. The poet is saying that he writes poetry because it is a way of finding truth in a world that is often confusing and chaotic.

In conclusion, the poem "Poetry Ask Me" is a masterpiece of William Stafford. It is a reflection of his love for poetry and his belief in its power to connect people. The poem uses a series of metaphors to explain why the poet writes poetry. Each metaphor emphasizes the importance of poetry as nourishment for the soul. The final line of the poem is a commentary on the state of the world and the role of poetry in finding truth. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry and its ability to transcend time and connect people from all walks of life.

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