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Daniel Duquette

Professor Armstrong

ENG 470/ 570

3 May 2018

An Analysis of William Stafford’s “Lore”

William Stafford’s poem ‘Lore’ was published in his 1960s collection West of Your City.

The poem’s first iteration, though, was scribbled on a piece of mimeograph paper containing

lesson plans for William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet1. This would seem to indicate that the

poem’s first draft was written during Stafford’s early days teaching at Lewis and Clark College.

The material upon which this first draft appears would also seem to indicate that it originated, as

most of his works do, in Stafford’s daily writing.

In his book Writing the Australian Crawl, Stafford notes on his daily writing practice that

it often begins with “(a) trivial hunch . . . a sequence (that) appeals to me for long enough to be

teased into something like a poem” (10). In this sense, “Lore” is different from the rest. The

opening three lines clearly state this hunch: “By going towards the north/ I edge a close berg,

lest/ floating south fish get it,” but the statement carries the weight of a sentiment that’s far from

trivial. This weight is felt by the reader, but can only, truly, be understood if one has a grasp on

what Johnathan Holden describes as the “cryptic and figurative significance” of Stafford’s

“symbolic shorthand,” shorthand that he uses “as components in that set of interlocking

metaphors which defines his vision of the world” (7).

1
See page 11.
2

In the case of the first draft2 of “Lore” the speaker of Stafford’s poem is “going towards

the north.” Peter Stitt notes in his article “William Stafford’s Wilderness Quest” that Stafford

assigns symbolic meaning to two of the four cardinal directions: “In the north is located cold,

harshness, winter, death, perhaps God; in the west is located nature, the pastoral world,

eventually the wilderness.” Here, then, Stafford begins the poem by going towards winter –

towards death. This is reiterated in line two, “I edge a close berg.” This line may seem

symbolically redundant: the berg, an ice berg, could be understood in terms of its coldness, too –

its otherness that’s “threatening because it is indifferent to human life” (Holden 18). This is

somewhat paradoxical: how does Stafford going toward death allow him to edge a close death?

The difference lies in the proximity.

The first line, “By going toward the north” places north in the distance. By placing this

distance between himself and north, the symbolic death, Stafford creates for the speaker an

allusion to the journey of life more than to death itself. As he states, it is because he’s going

toward the north that he will “edge a close berg.” Nearness, to Stafford, represents a

confrontable, visible world (20). In this way, the speaker will escape the confrontations of death

by living, but not just by living. For, to truly live, to Stafford, meant to live without pride, the

primary symptom of which was “the refusal to be “guided by the wings/ within,” by process”

(40).

Stafford, in this first draft, is writing in the first person, something unique to his writing

because it tends to limit what Stafford believes is of all people. In this way, these opening lines

are suggestive of a more personal narrative – one with didactic undertones that insinuate that this

narrative has wisdom to share. As aforementioned, the poem seems to have been written within

2
See page 12 for transcription.
3

five to ten years of the end of World War II, soon after Stafford’s time as a conscientious

objector. The opening lines, here, seem to speak to that experience, as if Stafford is saying, “by

following my process and maintaining my peace, I escaped the death of war – its indifference to

human life, and prevented, in the only way that I could, its perpetuation.”

If the opening three lines of the first draft are more narratively centered, the next four

shift to the expounding a series of anecdotal “facts”:

Dogs that eat fish die at the edge of tide water –


some kind of germ, or too much vitamins
a
Indian dogs, they say, ate copper for ^ cure
and pennies will save spaniels that ate salmon.

Stafford, here, is openly didactic; he shifts away from the first person narrative and “dog,” later

“Indian dogs,” takes on the subject position in the sentence. This sudden shift could, simply, be

indicative of his daily writing style: following whatever strand of thought seems appealing.

There is, though, thematic consistence in that he continues his musings on death.

Syntactically, he shifts the verb ‘die’ to the end of the clause; in doing so, the adverbial

phrase “at the edge of tidewater” shifts its association from ‘die’ to the appositive “that eat fish.”

This alters one’s understanding of the clause itself: no longer do the dogs necessarily die at the

edge of tidewater, but they die from the fish at the edge of tidewater. The tidewater becomes as

complicit with the dog’s death as the fish were. This echoes the sentiment in the first three line’s

narration – the cold indifference of nature to life and death.

The sixth line, “Indian dogs, they say, ate copper for a cure,” introduces an unknown

“they.” While “they” are never explicitly named or known, it lends to the reader a first glimpse

into the works title, “Lore.” Originally titled “Oregon,” Stafford, on this same, first the
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manuscript, crossed it out and replaced it with that which the poem would come to be known by.

While it’s hard to say which would be the more apt title, Holden does point out that,

“it is virtually dogma today that the more easily the reader can

abstract the poems content the worse the poem is, that explicitly

didactic verse barely deserves the name “poetry.” Being cryptic is

one way to ensure that you are not obvious” (8).

Perhaps the title change was Stafford’s recognition that this piece of writing had the

potential to be a poem; a shift in title from “Oregon” to “Lore” does, after all, keep a “topical

detail” from the readers that allows them to experience the poem on their terms and

“convincingly address a community” (7). It also implies that Oregon is the subject and that the

poem is lore: that is, the poem contains “a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held

by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth” (Oxford English

Dictionary) and that Stafford is simply its transmitter.

The lore of Oregon, as Stafford tells it, is as much about Indian dogs as it is about

“beachcombers find(ing) blue floats/ of glass the Japanese use on their nets/ that broke away

deep over the side of the world/ and slid here on the smooth beach as a gift” (8-11).

In the second draft3, the free verse of the first draft was transformed into four quatrains of

consistent pentameter for the second, formal prosodic – the first copy in typescript. Giving the

poem this kind of structure allowed Stafford the freedom to maintain the colloquial tone of his

narration whist not sacrificing the “trenchant observations” that made up both his daily writing

(K. Stafford 149) and the lore that he was attempting to transmit.

3
See page 14 for transcription.
5

Noticeably absent from the second draft are the first-person pronouns. In fact, the first

three lines from the first draft have been edited out. The poem, instead begins with a modified

version of lines four through seven of the first draft:

Dogs that eat fish at the edge of tidewater die- -


some kind of germ, or too much vitamins.
Indian dogs, though, ate copper for a cure,
and pennies will save spaniels that ate salmon.

Here, there is no longer a ‘they’ from whom Stafford is transmitting this lore. Eliminating the

pronoun allows for the poems continued abstraction, opening the experience of the poem to the

reader without forcing them to step back and think – “who’s ‘they’?” Replacing the ‘they’ with

‘though’ further differentiates the “Dogs” of line one from the “Indian dogs” of line three. As

Peter Stitt notes, “Stafford uses the Indian as a kind of paradigm for the man who is fully in

touch with his environment” (190).

In this way, Stafford differentiates the “dog” that eats fish and dies from the “Indian dog”

that knows to eat copper. This differentiation exemplifies Stafford’s modern pastoral poetry, in

which he often “portrays a contrast between two locales, two different ways of life” (Stitt 175) –

a contrast between the city and the wilderness of the west.

Aside from both this and the structural changes, Stafford added a third quatrain to this

draft:

look at is that looks like time,


Sometimes you find driftwood home,
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in es by waves.
wedged among the rocks, an arch made

by to you look till


Backed like each wrought-work you call out until the tide
in
brings something else, or the sun goes down.

Here, Stafford introduces themes such as darkness (when “the sun goes down”) and time

(“driftwood”) that become mainstays in his future work. This is the first instance, too, where we

get the reintroduction of pronouns – this time they are addressed to “you.” If the first quatrain

contains a series of statements, and the second (“On the shore beachcombers find [blue] floats / .

. .” (5)) contains a scene, this third, new quatrain is more of a statement.

In the same way that the use of first person in the first draft went against Stafford’s

norms, the use of ‘you’ here would indicate the poem’s inclusiveness – the ubiquitous nature of

the human perspective. ‘You’ could be you, or me, or him, or her; it is a democratic pronoun, to

use a term Holden uses to describe Stafford’s stance on writing (6), and it is one that indicates

that his statements have larger didactic implications– implications that are best transmitted

through the inclusive ‘you,’ rather than the exclusive ‘I.’

Stafford’s third draft4 focused mostly on transforming plural nouns to singulars

(‘pennies’ became ‘a penny’, ‘spaniels’ became ‘a spaniel’) and turning past tense into present

(‘turned’ became ‘turn’, ‘wedged’ became ‘wedge’). Both rhetorical shifts allow for abstract

aphorisms or anecdotes to become more concrete, specific images in the mind of the reader.

4
See page 16 for transcription.
7

His fourth draft5 focused on altering the work’s diction to both better match the poems

meter and create an onomatopoetic effect in the last quatrain:

Pieces of driftwood may turn into time


where waves have gone
And wedge among rocks in arches made by waves
wonder if
Finding such wrought-work you watch till the tide
when
will brings in something else or the sun goes down.

Eliminating the word ‘may’ allows for the alliteration of the letter ‘t’ to come through; it then

transforms into an alliterative ‘’g,’ but more so an alliterative ‘w,’ that flows into itself like

waves on a beach.

His fifth draft6 was finally sent out for publication: to the Partisan Review, the New

Yorker, New Republic, and the Saturday Review. While eventually accepted by the Saturday

Review in June of ’56, it was not without alterations: they had requested that he change “where

the waves have gone” (10) to “the breakers pound.” This makes ‘Lore’ a unique poem – one that

bucks the trend of his “refusal to ‘edit’ his own work” for publishers (Kitchen 20). It could, of

course, simply be a product of exuberance brought about by how little he had been published to

that point. Regardless, it was this alteration that got the poem published for the first time and

then, again, four years later, in his first collection West of Your City.

The publication West of Your City is a collection of poems with ‘home’ as its underlying

theme (Kitchen 29). Home, to Stafford, is in the west: a west that symbolizes “nature, the

pastoral world, (and) eventually wilderness” (Stitt 187). The collection itself is broken up into

three parts (‘Midwest,’ ‘Far West,’ and ‘Outside’) that follow this symbolization. “Lore” is the

5
See page 18 for transcription.
6
See page 20 for transcription.
8

tenth of sixteen poems within the ‘Far West’ section. The poem immediately preceding “Lore,”

titled “At The Bomb Testing Site” seems to depict a lizard waiting for the testing of a nuclear

weapon; coming right after “Lore” is the poem “Weather Report,” which could be understood as

depicting a sort of dystopic winter. The effect of the three paints “Lore” to be situated in the

middle of Stafford’s musings about the war that was, the bombing he couldn’t stop, and an

ending that he couldn’t change.

“Lore,” in the context of these musings, is representative of Stafford’s mythology: a

mythology that Lensing and Moran describe as being “composed of the elements of being (time,

space, earth, air, and water)” (Kitchen 21). In this way, and as relayed in the first draft, “Lore” is

firmly elemental – rooted in the wilderness of Oregon. Stafford juxtaposes this mythology with

the images of nuclear warfare surrounding them to criticize,

“the most perverse and, perhaps, the most dangerous men . . . men

who, believing in reason, impose their own plans upon the world,

men who, like the “thinkers” in “The Poets’ Annual Indigence

Report,” are “mincing along through a hail of contingencies”

(Holden 40).

This mythology can be equated to the “legend” of “nature’s justice,” as Holden observes:

“the “justice” which Stafford sees in the natural landscape is associated with the “limitation,

recurrence, stability” of “organic processes” . . . Nature (is) an emblem of propriety” (34).

“Dogs that eat fish edging tidewater die” – that they died made no difference to the tidewater;

their placement, while showing the indifference of nature, is more so to emphasize the propriety

of the Indian dog’s native wisdom. “a penny will save a spaniel that ate salmon,” if only the

spaniel knows the true value of the penny.


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Just as these truths are stated clearly in the first stanza, the second stanza sets a scene to

show how universal they are. “On the shore beachcombers find a float/ of glass the Japanese

used on a net/ that broke away deep over the side of the world/ and slid blue here on the beach as

a gift” (5-8). The word “deep,” here, is important because of its association with “dark” – that

which cannot be visualized; with no “finite special relations” it is “implicitly associated with

time rather than space” (Holden 12). In this way, the “float/ of glass the Japanese used . . . slid

blue here on the beach” connects east and west not just spacially, but also through time.

The mention of Japan calls to mind observations that Kim Stafford made of his father

when seeing a picture of him from CO Camp during WWII, imagining his thoughts: “I couldn’t

stop the war. . . I didn’t stop it, that’s all. That’s what you see in my face. That’s what I’ll carry

to the end. Family. Career. Love. And that – that will be there: Hiroshima” (201).

Driftwood, like the floats from Japan, is also brought in from the pacific. The

interconnectivity abstractly alluded to between time and space in the second quatrain is stated

more explicitly in the third, as “pieces of driftwood turn into time” (9). Judith Kitchen notes,

regarding Stafford’s portrayal of time, that,

“time locks us all within the confines of an individual life, and yet it

also hints at a “different country” –possibly an alternative life . . .

Mesh, calendar squares, prison bars, screen, lace – the matrices of

time catch and hold us, while its motion is a “sideways drift.” And if

only the “now” is real, at least it is a now that contains a “then”” (17).

The driftwood, as time, cannot escape its alternate life, as a home that once stood where a bomb

was dropped – any more than it can escape being “wedge(d) among the rocks the breakers

pound” (10). This driftwood, like “wrought-work” (11), has been beat by human hands as only

wrought-work can be, and still the breakers pound. For, that is the “organic process,” and, just as
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the tide cared not about the fish it brought the dogs, it cares not about the destruction that it may

bring, or impose.
11

Drafts

Draft One/ Daily Writing:


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By going toward the north Oregon Lore


I edge a close berg, lest
floating south fish get it.

Dogs that eat fish die at the edge of tide water –


some kind of germ, or too much vitamins
a
Indian dogs, they say, ate copper for ^ cure
and pennies will save spaniels that ate salmon.
On the shore beachcombers find blue floats
of glass the Japanese use on their nets
that broke away deep over the side of the world
and slid here on the smooth beach as a gift.
If I can find the driftwood and a home
to keep this kind of stuff
13

Draft Two:
14

Lore

Dogs that eat fish at the edge of tidewater die- -

some kind of germ, or too much vitamins.

Indian dogs, though, ate copper for a cure,

and pennies will save spaniels that ate salmon.

On the shore beachcombers find [blue] floats

of glass the Japanese use on their nets

that broke away deep over the side of the world


blue
and slid ^ here on the smooth beach as a gift.

look at is that looks like


time,
Sometimes you find driftwood home,
in es by waves.
wedged among the rocks, an arch made

by to you look till


Backed like each wrought-work you call out until the tide
in
brings something else, or the sun goes down.
15

Draft Three:
16

Lore

Dogs that eat fish edging tidewater die--

some kind of germ, or too much vitamins.

Indian dogs ate copper for a cure,


a y a
and pennies will save ^ spaniels that ate salmon.

a
On the shore beachcombers find floats
d a
of glass the Japanese use^ on their nets

that broke away deep over the side of the world

and slid blue here on the beach as a gift.


Pieces of may
Sometimes you look at driftwood that turned into time

and wedged among the rocks in arches made by waves.


finding watch
Backed by such wrought-work you look till the tide

Brings in something else, or the sun goes down.


ok
17

Draft Four:
18

Lore

Dogs that eat fish edging tidewater die--

some kind of germ, or too much vitamin.

Indian dogs ate copper for a cure;

a penny will save a spaniel that ate salmon.

On the shore beachcombers find a float

of glass the Japanese used on a net

that broke away dep over the side of the world

and slid blue here on the beach as a gift.

Pieces of driftwood may turn into time


where waves have gone
And wedge among rocks in arches made by waves
wonder if
Finding such wrought-work you watch till the tide
when
will brings in something else or the sun goes down.
19

Draft Five/ Documentary Copy:



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Lore

Dogs that eat fish edging tidewater die--

some kind of germ, or too much vitamin.

Indian dogs ate copper for a cure;

A penny will save a spaniel that ate salmon.

On the shore beachcombers find a float

of glass the Japanese used on a net

that broke away deep over the side of the world

and slid blue here on the beach as a gift.

Pieces of driftwood turn into time


the breakers pound
And wedge among the rocks where the waves have gone.

Finding such wrought-work you wonder if the tide

brings in something else when the sun goes down.


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Draft Six (Published Copy):



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LORE

Dogs that eat fish edging tidewater die --
some kind of germ, or too much vitamin.
Indian dogs ate copper for a cure;
a penny will save a spaniel that ate salmon.

On the shore beachcombers find a float


of glass the Japanese used on a net
that broke away deep over the side of the world
and slid blue here on the beach as a gift.

Pieces of driftwood turn into time


and wedge among the rocks the breakers pound.
Finding such wrought-work you wonder if the tide
brings in something else when the sun goes down.
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WORK CITED

Kitchen, Judith. Writing the World: Understanding William Stafford. Oregon State University /

Corvallis, 1999.

Holden, Jonathan. The Mark to Turn: A Reading of William Stafford's Poetry. The University

Press of Kansas, 1976.

Stafford, Kim. Early Morning: Remembering My Father William Stafford. Graywolf Press, 2002.

Stafford, William. “Lore.” William Stafford Archives: West of Your City, Aubrey R. Watzek

Library, williamstaffordarchives.org/poem/1/.

---. Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation. University of Michigan Press,

1978.

Stitt, Peter. “William Stafford's Wilderness Quest.” On William Stafford: the Worth of Local

Things, edited by Tom Andrews, The University of Michigan Press, 1995, pp. 165–202.

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