Feb. 28, 2002

Run before Dawn

by William Stafford

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Run Before Dawn," by William Stafford from An Oregon Message (Harper and Row).

Run Before Dawn

Most mornings I get away, slip out
the door before light, set forth on the dim gray
road, letting my feet find a cadence
that softly carries me on. Nobody
is up-all alone my journey begins.

Some days it's escape: the city is burning
behind me, cars have stalled in their tracks,
and everybody is fleeing like me but some other direction.
My stride is for life, a far place.

Other days it is hunting: maybe some game will cross
my path and my stride will follow for hours, matching
all turns. My breathing has caught the right beat
for endurance; familiar trancelike scenes glide by.

And sometimes it's a dream of motion, streetlights coming near,
passing, shadows that lean before me, lengthened
then fading, and a sound from a tree: a soul, or an owl.

These journeys are quiet. They mark my days with adventure
too precious for anyone else to share, little gems
of darkness, the world going by, and my breath, and the road.

It's the birthday of the English poet and critic Sir Stephen Spender, born in London (1909). At Oxford he struck up friendships with W.H. Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis and Christopher Isherwood. His collections include Vienna (1934), The Still Centre (1939), and Collected Poems (1955).

It's the birthday of novelist Donald Coldsmith, born in Iola, Kansas (1926). He practiced medicine for many years, and wrote a newspaper column. He then retired and wrote a series of novels set in the west in the 17th and 18th centuries during the age of Spanish exploration. Some of his works include Daughter of the Eagle, Thunderstick, Bearer of the Pipe.

It's the birthday of historian Dee Brown, born in Alberta, Louisiana (1908). He was a librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when he started writing a book about the West: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (1970).

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Ben Hecht, born in New York City (1894), but raised in Racine, Wisconsin. He got a job as a columnist for the Chicago Daily News when he was just a teenager. In his late twenties, he headed out to Hollywood and wrote screenplays, often in collaboration with Charles MacArthur. Their 1928 stage play, The Front Page, was filmed three times. His other screenplays include Gunga Din (1938), Wuthering Heights (1939), Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946).

It's the birthday of illustrator John Tenniel, born in London (1820), best known for his illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872).

It's the birthday of essayist Michel de Montaigne, born at Périgord, in Bordeaux, France (1533). The son of a wealthy Catholic landowner, he studied law at the University of Toulouse, and practiced in Bordeaux. After his father's death, Montaigne retired to the family chateau and devoted himself to writing and study, remaining aloof from the political and religious quarrels of France. His first book of Essays was published in 1580, and contained the essay, "On Friendship."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »