Writing prompt: ‘The Way It Is’ by William Stafford

This New Year’s Eve gave me a memory that I’ll treasure – a lovely moment with my daughter. At the same time, I rediscovered ‘The Way It Is’ by William Stafford. A poem about life and its journey, Stafford’s words caused me to ask: ‘what thread will lead me through this coming year?’ Taking his poem as my writing prompt, I began to explore.

Read William Stafford’s poem ‘The Way It Is’ here.

The beginning

New Year’s Eve. We were sitting quietly in the living room – my husband, my daughter and I – all of us exhausted after a week of festive fun. I pulled one of my favourite poetry anthologies from our bookshelf and started flicking through it. As I turned the pages, I noticed my daughter had arranged herself on the floor next to me and was looking through her own nursery rhyme books. She was turning pages just like me, intently studying their content. My girl, not even two years old, was totally absorbed. In that moment she seemed so much older. I had visions of her growing up – all the books she might read, all that knowledge and experience fuelling her for the future. Side by side, in the calm of our home, my girl and I read together.

When I looked back down at the book on my lap, I noticed the poem ‘The Way It Is’. I’ve read it a number of times before, but now there was something nudging me to delve deeper. My favourite way to explore something is to write about it. So I jotted down my thoughts in a stream of consciousness fashion. I played with the word ‘thread’. In my mind’s eye I could see the sparkling, golden threads of fine clothing; Christmas gifts tied with ribbon; needles being threaded by young and old hands; teddy bears being mended in a toy hospital…

Soon I had the beginnings of my own poem, and over the next couple of days I developed it further. Here it is, as it stands:

The Heart’s Hope

This thread,
woven through the years,

mending the ears and eyes
of much-loved toys,

coiled in the sewing kit
a mother gives
her grown-up child,

gliding through the silk skirt
of a wedding dress, and
holding together the seams
of a three-piece suit,

binding the spine
of a well-worn Bible.

This thread
can stitch invisible wounds.
It is carried through our lives,
in our hearts.

An important question

For me, there was still a question burning within Stafford’s poem, or so it seemed. The poem is about the particular ‘thread’ – unchanging, always there – that has led the poet through his life.

Reading this on New Year’s Eve, I wondered to myself: ‘what thread will lead me through this coming year?’ I turned to my notebook for another burst of free writing, using Stafford’s poem as my writing prompt. What is this ‘thread’ he talks about? It could be a value, a belief or a philosophy. It could be a dream or an obsession. What would mine be? Would it be motherhood? My creative writing? My career? Surely it’s too hard to choose just one ‘thread’.

My mind kept coming back to an uplifting Lapidus workshop I attended in December. Our facilitator was the writer, blogger and diarist Marie-Therese Keegan. She invited us to uncover one word or phrase that would serve as our ‘resolution’ for the year – something we would aspire to, build on, and fall back on whenever we needed it.

My word was ‘trust’. Trust in myself and in my instincts. Trust in those around me. And trust that I was on the right path. Could this be my thread for the year? Perhaps ‘The Way It Is’, coming along when it did, was meant to be a reminder about my chosen word and all that it stands for.

I’ll continue my soul-searching, no doubt. But I have a thread to hold on to; it will keep me going.

How did you react to William Stafford’s poem? What does the coming year mean to you? If you have a poem that’s inspired you this new year, let me know in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Writing prompt: ‘The Way It Is’ by William Stafford

  1. When I stopped by at church today, Christine, the secretary had 2 books on her desk for me to read . My husband passed away on Thanksgiving . He learnied that he had pancreatic cancer just weeks after we returned home after celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary with our son, daughter-in-law and three playful grandchildren, 6,4 and 2 years old.
    One book was “The Invisible String”. It took me back to the poem by William Stafford “The Way It Is”. I will buy the book for my Oregonian Grands and include Oregon’s poet laurette’s on ‘the thread’.
    Happy exploring this newyear.

    1. Oh I’m sorry to hear about your husband and everything you’ve been through. My condolences to you and your family.
      ‘The Invisible String’ story is one that my daughter and I have enjoyed since she was young. A lovely source of comfort. I do like the idea that we are all connected by the string, just as Stafford’s thread (or our own versions of it) may guide us through our lives.
      Thanks for connecting here and sharing your experiences.

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