How to Regain Your Soul
by William E. Stafford
Come down Canyon Creek trail on a summer afternoon
that one place where the valley floor opens out. You will see
the white butterflies. Because of the way shadows
come off those vertical rocks in the west, there are
shafts of sunlight hitting the river and a deep
long purple gorge straight ahead. Put down your pack.
Above, air sighs the pines. It was this way
when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built,
when campfires lighted caves. The white butterflies dance
by the thousands in the still sunshine. Suddenly, anything
could happen to you. Your soul pulls toward the canyon
and then shines back through the white wings to be you again.
“How to Regain Your Soul” by William E. Stafford from The Darkness Around Us is Deep ©Harper Perennial, 1994.
PHOTO: Canyon Creek Lakes from Little Lakes Trail in Trinity Alps Wilderness, near Weaverville, California. Photo ©Dara Zimmerman, All Rights Reserved.
NOTE: The Trinity Alps are a mountain range in Siskiyou County and Trinity County, in Northern California. They are a subrange of the Klamath Mountains and located to the north of Weaverville, California. The Trinity Alps are noted for their scenic views and alpine environment. The Trinity Alps Wilderness covers 517,000 acres, and features hiking trails, backcountry camping, and breathtaking scenery—including mountains, gorges, glaciers, forests, lakes, and rivers. James Hilton, author of the novel Lost Horizons about the Himalayan utopia “Shangri-la,” said that the area around Weaverville, California, came closest to the definition of an earthly paradise than anywhere else on the planet.
PHOTO: Trinity Alps, Pacific Crest Trail, Northern California. Photo by Clay Shannon, used by permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: William Edgar Stafford (1914-1993) was appointed the twentieth United States Poet Laureate in 1970, at the time referred to as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He received a B.A. from the University of Kansas in 1937. In 1941, he was drafted into the United States armed forces, but declared himself a pacifist. As a conscientious objector, he performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946 in the Civilian Public Service camps. The work consisted of forestry and soil conservation work in Arkansas, California, and Illinois. He received his M.A. from the University of Kansas in 1947, and in 1954 received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Stafford’s poems are typically short, focusing on details of daily life. He kept a daily journal for 50 years, and composed nearly 22,000 poems—about 3,000 of these were published. Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford was released by Graywolf Press in 2014.