It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.
Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked —
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders: we
encounter them in dread and wonder.
But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.
Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears —
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.
“Allegiances” ~ William Stafford
48 thoughts on “Common Things”
Not having heard of Stafford before, until I followed your link, I wondered whether this poem related to earlier conflicts. A superb, gentle, reflection. Excellent photograph.
My sense is that his use of ‘heroes’ is ironic, which made the poem a perfect read for last night, after our most recent campaign debate. I was introduced to his work through this poem, which still is my favorite of all his work. He does tend to be gentle and somewhat understated when making his points, and that appeals to me, too.
Thanks very much, Linda. I enjoyed that one, too
I’m glad. Stafford isn’t as well-known as some, but his work is thoughtful and beautifully structured.
Thank you for the link. I enjoyed his poem.
I’m glad. I do enjoy sharing these poets that appeal to me, much as you share your singer-songwriter poets.
I am happy to categorize myself as one of those “ordinary beings.”
As am I. In an age like ours, devoted in so many ways to excess and spectacle, anything ‘ordinary’ too often is considered bland, or dull — even boring. It’s quite the opposite, of course, but that’s a lesson it takes time to learn.
The excess of bread and circuses for the masses are oft remembered as a cautionary tale…
As well they should be.
“Common things” are all quite relative, but they are what give us a sense of place and safety. Thanks for the reminder.
I thought about your visit to Madrid Falls when I was putting this together; the line about finding “some limit beyond the waterfall” resonated especially. Beyond that, it tickled me to see this ordinary ‘waterfall’ at the Brazoria refuge water garden in a new way.
I’m also an ‘ordinary’ being, and glad to be so.
A neighbor took a look at the sparrows, doves, and house finches gathered at my feeders a couple of days ago and said, “It’s too bad you have such ordinary birds.” I just grinned.
I’m sorry, “ordinary” birds?
What are they?
Some people only notice the flashy ones, like the cardinals. They never notice the ‘ordinals.’
Those of us who spend lots of time with the native plants of our area certainly “cling to the earth and love where we are.”
Time to trade again. The Stafford reminded me of a purported T’ang Dynasty poem that appeared in John Fowles’s novel The Magus:
Here at the frontier, there are falling leaves.
Although my neighbors are all barbarians,
and you, you are a thousand miles away,
there are always two cups on my table.
Whether Fowles translated that from Chinese or wrote it himself is a mystery.
Whatever the source of the poem — Fowles himself or some ancient poet — it’s wonderfully poignant. And we do cling to the earth — sometimes, more literally than at other times. Generally, I love the earth and enjoy the clinging, except when the chiggers come to keep me company.
It’s poignant enough that I remembered it more than 50 years after first reading it in Central America, far from home.
“we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.” … I feel close to these lines … Beautiful earth colours and movement of the water over the rocks.
I was sure that those lines would appeal particularly to other lovers of nature, Pete. The water feature’s part of a new water garden that’s being developed at the refuge. At one end, there’s a fine sculpture of four children crossing a log, and they’re beginning to add a variety of water plants. I’ll be showing some of those in the future. I’m glad you like the water’s flow. This was my first attempt at smoothing it out with a slower shutter speed, and I was pleased with it.
I appreciate “safe, quiet, grateful.” Our world has become a noisy place, with too few of us clinging to calm (and many not even knowing how to silence the commotion). Lovely photo — I’ve always been mesmerized by waterfalls!
“Safe, quiet, grateful” — that’s one fine triad, isn’t it? Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that he might have arranged them in that order for a purpose. Once we’re safe, or feel safe, we’re free to grow quiet — and then the gratitude can swell.
I love waterfalls, too, although I’ve seen only one really proper one, in Mexico. A few waters that were supposed to be falling had dried up when I got there, so waterfall envy’s been a part of my life. (I don’t count the water draining off Houston’s freeway overpasses.) When I found this nice arrangement of rocks, and some flowing water, I thought, “I’ll make this a waterfall!”
I feel like we are right here, this moment:
” Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears —
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.”
This common thing is longing for a little more common in the insane world.
I think we all are, Jeanie. There’s enough insanity and whining in today’s world for me, that’s for sure. Stafford’s poem is a good reminder of the comforts of where we are — of common routines and earthy pleasures, like Rick’s good bread and Lizzie’s attentiveness. There is a lot of good to be grateful for, despite it all.
A really lovely waterfall and I read in one of your comments that this at Brazoria. I had no idea. And then I read about the neighbor that claimed the sparrows, doves, and house finch were common. There is nothing common about any bird- even the obnoxious starlings and grackles. I was always so happy to see the doves come to my feeders, I have never seen the house finch come to my feeders when I was still feeding the birds. But I saw and heard them at the back of my property for years. They just are not around all the time.
It’s not so very much of a waterfall, Yvonne — at least, in size. I think it’s quite lovely, but it’s actually the rock wall associated with their new water garden. I had great fun transforming it a bit for this post. I’ll have some photos of the plants there, eventually, although they’re just beginning to take hold and flourish, but a couple of the plants have interesting histories.
I’m looking at two pair of doves right now, sitting on the bare branches of the cypress trees. The sparrows are in the shrubbery, of course; everything else seems to have sheltered from the strong, relatively cold wind. I counted six male finches today, and it seems to me that they’re turning more colorful by the day. I suppose they’ll be showing off for the girls soon, and the male cardinal has begun singing at first light — about 6:30 a.m. It won’t be long until it will be warm enough to keep the windows open, and enjoy their songs.
The past 4 days have ended with flocks flying north overhead – probably settling in for a little rest in the lake/park wetlands.
Ordinary things – nice to end the day with a walk and seeing the small ordinary things
(You did a good job with the photo – it looks like a central TX waterspill, I mean, water fall.)
Waterspill would do just as well, given that I’m taller than the rocks were! But ground level can provide just the right perspective, and besides, when you’re just messing around with a camera, it’s a lot easier.
I saw some of those birds yesterday, and the day before. It was so foggy I couldn’t tell exactly what I was seeing. They probably were ibis, since there wasn’t any of the chatter that comes with geese or sandhills, but they were flying in formation. The Key West radar had some fantastic returns from birds migrating up from the south last week — songbirds all, and even more impressive than the bats coming out of our caves. I found this link to the radar.
That photo is rather emblematic of this whole week of days spent quietly, doing what I durn well please. Nothing grand, spectacular or breathtaking, just taking the path of least resistance over a small pile of days.
That sounds entirely pleasant. It also sounds rather like the small stones you create so well — an especially nice complement to the stones in the photo.
Beautiful poem, and the image complements it very nicely. I also love William Stafford’s message here. Great ‘milky’ effect of the silky-smooth water cascading over rocks.
I like the contrast between the water and the rocks. I’ve always favored ‘stopped water’ — the sort captured with a faster shutter speed. But here, slowing things down seemed mor appropriate, so I gave it a try, and it does seem to suit the poem better.
Common, and yet not so common, Linda, as so many people have lost touch with the beauty and serenity of a waterfall, or to look inside it and find all of the marvelous creatures that live there, or possibly to even be reminded of the words of Heraclitus: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. –Curt
There’s another bit of Heraclitus’s wisdom that I was introduced to by Annie Dillard. It conveys some of the same sense,using a different phenomenon: “It ever was, and is, and shall be, ever-living Fire, in measures being kindled and in measures going out.” Whether it’s the flow of water or the flicker of flames, we watch: fascinated by their constancy as well as their constant change, and by the possibility that they’re metaphors for our own lives.
Certainly metaphors for our lives, Linda.
Boy, I like this one very very much —
trolls and spiders, strange beliefs and whining around our ears, yeah there’s a lot of that going on, no doubt. And meanwhile, back at the ranch, the regular folks remember to pick up a quart of milk on the way home from work, remember to ask the cashier if her cat is feeling better, send a birthday note to your cousin, ignore the trolls’ whining and all the angry strange beliefs blowing around on hot air, and get on with making dinner, and other normal activities. Sometimes being a commoner is not so bad, is it!
All of that strangeness and whining seems to become more common with every passing day, but to some (large) degree, it’s a response to a manufactured reality. I can’t quote it now because I can’t find it again, but a very wise guy I read recently said something like this: “It’s to the media’s benefit to keep you roiled up, and it’s to the benefit of the social media platforms to keep the pot boiling. Turn off the tv, disconnect from the internet, and go wash the car. You’ll profit from it.” I couldn’t agree more.
And as you say, all around us, people are doing exactly that. Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, we still need to remember the pick up the milk and check on the cat. Those things aren’t very dramatic, but they make a life.
I think there is a dualism in each of us…both ordinary and extraordinarily at the same time. Unique yet common in our humanity and personae.
This is a pretty little cascade or waterfall. I like the colorful rocks and think you’ve hit a nice combination of detail and softness and I always enjoy green water…or brown.
And, as you suggest, what seems ordinary to one person can be experienced by another as truly extraordinary, while all around us extraordinary events are taking place which hardly are noticed by most people. We’ve been trained over the years to be spectators at spectacles, while we hardly see the wonders around us. Putting on a different set of spectacles can cure some of that!
I got a kick out of creating my waterfall out of a water garden. This is the same pond where they installed the sculpture of the kids walking across the log. They’ve begun adding acquatic plants to it; eventually, it’s going to be very pretty.
I’ll look forward to your documentation of it’s development.
Humans, at least in western societies, have become used to new and bigger on an almost daily basis. More of us need to pay attention to the small wonders that are part of everyday life on the planet. There’s a lot going on, like you say, that is worthy of more attention.
Save your sanity by escaping the world. A nice thought, not so easy to do.
Well, if we can’t escape the world, at least we can choose a different part of it to dwell in from time to time. See: photographers, readers, gardeners, etc.
I did enjoy this poem, wonderful picture too.xxx
I’ll bet you enjoy watching the fire on your patio as much as I enjoyed watching this little water feature. The common things often are soothing and pleasurable, and nature’s gifts rank right at the top.
Ah yes, William Stafford. A local boy. Famous, for those who read poetry. (So I’m not that familiar – a failing, I suppose.)
I don’t know about unfamiliarity being a failing. I didn’t know Stafford until I began blogging and was introduced to him by a woman on the west coast. That’s part of the fun — there’s always something new to enjoy.
The unfamiliarity is more about poetry than William Stafford. I’ve never really been into reading it. I’m probably missing some good stuff, just due to a lack of patience and interest.
The irony is, occasionally I write a post folks deem poetic. [shrug]. Go figure.