An Explication of William Stafford’s “Ask Me” The poem “Ask Me” is not as it may seem the first time you read it, you have to read through it a second maybe even a third time in order to take notes about the true meaning that Stafford is trying to get across. William Stafford gives us a paraphrase of his own poem “Ask Me”, giving the reader a look into what the poem means to him. By giving us the reader a more in depth explanation of his work it allows us to understand the meaning within the poem itself and the life lessons Stafford may have intended to reveal to the readers.
So now let’s take a look at it and see what his thoughts were. To understand this poem we must first get an understanding of the poet himself. William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914, and grew up during the Great Depression (Brehm). Due to the hardships of his childhood he began to work early on in life finding and doing odd jobs to help support his family, but within all the work and struggles Stafford managed to find time to have fun and explore nature. He developed a love for nature that was to sustain him in the years ahead (Brehm).
This love is often reflecting within his work in which je has been highly honored for. Stafford has won awards in Literature for his poetry and many books during his lifetime. When once asked what made him start writing poetry, Stafford replied, “What made you stop? ” This rather cagey answer reveals several of his most basic assumptions about poetry (Brehm). William Stafford wrote his poem “Ask Me” in 1975, in which he himself later paraphrased in 1977. Stafford stated that he thinks his poem can be paraphrased (Stafford). Stafford’s poem is like no other of his work. Ask Me” is about as close as Stafford comes in his best poems to a formal sonnet of fourteen lines” (Anderson). The first part of the fourteen lines are asked by the (I) or the person who is speaking, in which I believe Stafford is talking to the reader. The second half would usually answer the questions asked within the first half, but Stafford does not for (I) is the one asking the questions. At first the poem doesn’t seem to have any of the traditional flow and rhymes at the end of the lines, but Stafford does show internal rhyming within the lines.
Stafford often gives objects in nature humanized characteristics and feeling to get his point and meaning across (Brehm). Stafford’s work is often filled with hidden meaning and life lessons in which he is trying to get across to the reader. Stafford is a poet who does not follow traditional formatting within is work. Stafford’s work is full of surprises for writer and reader alike; when Stafford starts a poem you can never be sure how it will end (Brehm). Let’s take the time to break down and understand the meaning of Stafford’s oem, so that we can get the full meaning behind his intended work. The title of the poem is “Ask Me,” any reader may think “Ask Me what? ” But the title speaks for itself as you read on. Stafford starts his poem off with many questions pointed towards the reader. But the question is are they being asked to us, or are we the reader supposed to ask them of ourselves? His poem at first is a little unclean on what is really being asked and to whom. So let’s begin form the first line in which Stafford says “Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made” (Stafford).
Stafford paraphrases this line as “When it’s quiet and cold and we have some chance to interchange without hurry, confront me if you like with a challenge about weather I think I have made mistakes in my life” (Stafford). Stafford is asking if the decisions one chooses in life are mistakes, or how life is meant to be? He follows with asking if the events he has following his life are what others would see. But what you do in your life is your decision, are Stafford’s choices made really mistakes made or could he have changed things if he choose to do something differently?
In lines 4-7 Stafford says “Others have come in their slow way into my thought, and some have tried to help or to hurt-ask me what the difference their strongest love or hate has made (Stafford). Stafford is stating that no matter what one choose to do in life there will always others around to either help you or hurt you. He asks if their (others) intentions have helped or hurt him? (Stafford). But why should you allow others to influence your life, for everyone lives their own individual one. Nobody is perfect and the people around you have no right to judge you on that.
The questions deferred in the first line of “Ask Me” seem to show some ultimate judgment about the speaker (I) (Anderson). Stafford repeats “Ask Me” three times within the first stance giving the reader (you) time to think and answer. Is he really asking for answers from somebody or just simply speaking to himself? He starts his second stance off by stating “I will listen to what you have to say” (Stafford). Stafford is asking (you) to answer to his life; do you think that what we do in life are mistakes of just life itself?
Stafford takes the time to let the reader think and analyze the questions asked in the first seven lines. In lines 9 and 10 he says that “You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait” (Stafford). But if you remember in the first line the river is ice so it’s not only silent but calm, it’s not moving at all. “The speaker in the poem chooses not to discuss “whether/ what I have done is my life” until the river is ice” (Anderson). I think that he uses the time of winter to wait for the river to freeze so share his thoughts.
For if the river is frozen it cannot pass on and judge his life. He follows in lines 11-13 that the river is silent but there are still currents and movement hidden under the ice. Stafford paraphrases these lines “That river, and that world-and our lives-all share the depth and stillness of much more significance then our talk, or intentions” (Stafford). I believe that he trying to tell (you) the reader that no matter what you do in life or who has something to say about it the actions in which we choose to make have more significance than we may see.
In the last line Stafford says “What the river says, that is what I say” (Stafford). Stafford uses the “ice as a protective mask within the poem” (Anderson), not allowing any final judgment to be passed. Starting with the frozen river in the first line Stafford gives us the ultimate life lesson hidden within life’s “mistakes” that the choices we make in life are our own and there are people around us that will either help or hurt. We all ask ourselves and others as well if our decisions are a mistake. But in actuality no decision in life is a mistake, but a lesson in which we learn from.
You will always have people within your life that are there to hurt you or help you, but in the end what is done is your choice. Stafford’s use of the frozen river allows us to take the time and “freeze”, to think on what we are or have done. We as humans are not perfect and shouldn’t hide behind “the ice” for the “mistakes” we have made, for our life is already planned out for us it’s our decision on what road to take. Stafford gives us encouragement within his poem, allowing us to see ourselves for who we are and not what we do. Bibliography: Anderson, Erland G.
Stafford’s “Ask Me”. Stories That Could Be True. New York, 1996. Article. Anderson gives a very good explanation of how he views the poems “Ask Me” By William Stafford, but it’s only one person’s point of view, so his understanding of the poem is very controversy. Brehm, John. William Stafford. United States, September 2006. Author Biography. One of the most prolific and imaginative poets of his time, Stafford produced many poems of enduring value and greatly contributed to his readers’ understanding of the creative process. Stafford, William. “Ask Me. Gioia, X. J. Kennedy and Dana. Literature. New York: Pearson, 2010. 643. Book. Stafford’s poem is followed by his own paraphrase of how he believes his own poem should be interptied. By doing so he allows us into his inner toughts behind the making of “Ask Me. ” Works Cited: Anderson, Erland G. Stafford’s “Ask Me”. Stories That Could Be True. New York, 1996. Article. Brehm, John. William Stafford. United States, September 2006. Author Biography. Stafford, William. “Ask Me. ” Gioia, X. J. Kennedy and Dana. Literature. New York: Pearson, 2010. 643. Book.