OPW: The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report

“The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report” is among the most confounding William Stafford poems that I have ever found. I am honestly unable to understand or explain exactly what it is supposed to mean, but I’m still awed by the beauty of the phrases.

The most salient meaning I have found (thank you Google) that it is about intellectualism in the 1950s. I can find possible allusions to this in the poem, but I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation. If you think you can explain it, or want to try, please let me know.

Tonight beyond the determined moon,
aloft with nothing left that is voluntary
for delight, everything uttering hydrogen,
your thinkers are mincing along through a hail of contingencies,

While we all–floating though we are, lonesome though we are,
lost in hydrogen–we live by seems things:
when things just are, then something else
will be doing the living.

Doing is not enough; being is not enough;
knowing is far from enough. So we clump around, putting
feet on the dazzle floor, awaiting the real schedule
by celebrating the dazzle schedule.

And, whatever is happening, we are here;
a lurch or a god has brought us together.
We do our jobs–listening in fear
in endless, friendless, Jesus-may-happen fashion.

Our shadows ride over the grass, your shadows, ours: –
Rich men, wise men, be our contemporaries.


One response to “OPW: The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report”

  1. What year was that written? Could the poem be something written during his time as a conscientious objector, in the forestry camp? …”a lurch or a god has brought us together”…