The On Being Project

To Watch the World and Then Each Other

I’ve long loved this William Stafford poem because it’s about caring for our shared world, lest we let it slip away through inattention and neglect.

In recent months, the active threats to that world have multiplied many times over. There’s a new urgency about paying attention and responding to what we see.

The Powers that Be are intent on “disappearing” so much that millions of Americans care about — pristine wilderness, clean air and water, affordable health care for all, the social safety net, mutual respect in the midst of diversity, the hospitality symbolized by the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” 

“A Valley Like This” carries a warning that we who care about such things must heed and act upon:

We have to watch it and and then look at each other.
Together we hold it close and carefully
save it, like a bubble that can disappear
if we don’t watch out.

As William Carlos Williams said, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

A Valley Like This
William Stafford

Sometimes you look at an empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened —
there was nothing, and then…

But maybe some time you will look out and even
the mountains are gone, the world become nothing
again. What can a person do to help
bring back the world?

We have to watch it and then look at each other.
Together we hold it close and carefully
save it, like a bubble that can disappear
if we don’t watch out.

Please think about this as you go on. Breathe on the world.
Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings
roll along, watch how they open and close, how they
invite you to the long party that your life is.

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