Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




There is a wholeness and a sanity in William Stafford's vision that arises out of his allegiance to the authentic elements of our experience. These elements include the vital but continually imperiled wilderness, the human landscape of the past comprised of family, friends, and lovers, and the eternal and inescapable rhythms of time, death, mutability, and terror. In his own words, Stafford is seeking to embody in his work "the unanalyzed impressions of holiness" that the world thrusts at him. By temperament and by choice, Stafford is alienated from the so-called confessional school of poetry. Instead, he writes in the tradition of the concerned poet who gives voice to the urgent concerns of society. His social and political interests are three-fold. He is a pacifist by conviction, and therefore opposed to war, nuclear proliferation, and to all the destructive consequences of an increasingly sophisticated technology. He is also in the great tradition of the naturalist poet, observing and incorporating natural phenomena into his work, and committed to preserving the mystery of the wilderness. In this respect he is in the Romantic tradition of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Finally, Stafford is still profoundly moved by the "idea" of America, and his poems are an attempt to grasp the essence of the land. The last, doomed symbol of this quintessential and "original" America is the American Indian, whom Stafford takes as preceptor and guide. In poetic technique, as in every aspect of his work and life, what is of supreme importance to Stafford is the process itself. Poetry is process, and it is foolish to formulate preconceived notions of order and impose them on reality. The form of a poem arises naturally out of the poetic experience itself. Thus his poetry shows some technical affinities to the projective verse of the Black Mountain School of poets. But ultimately Stafford's poetry cannot be labelled. He is the least dogmatic of poets. He happily uses a great variety of verse forms and is a skilled craftsman, but he habitually denies a preoccupation with form. He is significant because his work is permeated by a social and political awareness of the world and by a rich particularity of details. This particularity has waned over the years, and his latest volume occasionally gets mired in abstraction and prosiness. But the controlling vision of an essentially benevolent landscape still persists.