Poetry Month: Burning a Book (Stafford)

Burning a Book

Protecting each other, right in the center
a few pages glow a long time.
The cover goes first, then outer leaves
curling away, then spine and a scattering.
Truth, brittle and faint, burns easily,
its fire as hot as the fire lies make—
flame doesn’t care. You can usually find
a few charred words in the ashes.

And some books ought to burn, trying for character
but just faking it. More disturbing
than book ashes are whole libraries that no one
got around to writing—desolate
towns, miles of unthought in cities,
and the terrorized countryside where wild dogs
own anything that moves. If a book
isn’t written, no one needs to burn it—
ignorance can dance in the absence of fire.

So I’ve burned books. And there are many
I haven’t even written, and nobody has.

—William Stafford, in The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry

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