That Reading You Were Looking For

While planning my wedding, I spent several weeks searching for the perfect reading. It was a union of two English teachers, after all. I even bought a couple of books devoted to poems of matrimonial devotion. I scoured my many Nortons and X.J. Kennedy anthologies.

And one day, when I wasn’t looking, I found this remarkable poem in the collected works of my favorite contemporary poet: William Stafford. Three-fourths of the attendees at my wedding were teachers and school administrators, and thus this poem has now become the final reading at at least one school graduation.

Since we are in that time of year — and some of you may be planning everything from seminary graduations to wedding toasts to mission send-offs — here it is. You can thank me later.

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

–William Stafford


  1. Thanks for this. I really loved reading this poem…it is new to me…but I have read most of his work (I grew up in Portland very close to Lewis & Clark College where he taught…he died my senior year of high school so we devoted an entire unit on him during my senior AP English class). I am probably not an ambitious of reader to have found him on my own, so I’m grateful for our Portland connection (his daughter’s work is amazing too!)

  2. “we devoted an entire unit on him during my senior AP English class”


    What is his daughter’s name? I’d love to look her up . . .

  3. Ok…so I’m an idiot….his daughter is actually a son, Kim Stafford. I don’t know why I never made that connection before. I read “A Thousand Friends of Rain” a few years back and really enjoyed it…in fact I think I’m going to try and reserve it at my library and read it again. It will probably make me homesick for Oregon though.

    I also just read that William Stafford published 69 volumes of work during his life. Amazing. So now I’m realizing that there is a lot of his work that I haven’t read.

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