Thoreau somewhere remarks that all poetry is really healthy speech. The dictum is hardly suited to the modernist temper, but it does seem to approximate the quality and intentions of William Stafford's honest, unfettered directness. ""I learn from the land,"" says Stafford in one of his better-known early poems; ""Some day/like a field I may take the next thing/so well that whatever is will be me."" Embodying the pastoral consciousness, staying close to his Midwest origins, learning to hold to what one knows and yet keeping oneself ready for new experience, a further illumination--these have always been Stafford themes. In his first volume since the award-winning Traveling through the Dark, the poet deepens both his technique and his autobiographical associations, especially in the twenty memory-pieces of the opening section. Here the influence of Life Studies is evident, though without Lowell's anguished confessional tone or mordant irony. Stafford is deliberately, deceptively non-sophisticated. A calm austerity, careful naturalistic details, muted rhymes and flexible cadences singularly express a subdued moral pathos, an intermingling of past and present, a commentary on one's allegiances, hopes, doubts, defeats. Symbolist strains, as well as social and political attitudes, inform the book as a whole; but it is the recurring imagery of seasons, landscapes, and particular people which best signify Stafford's instinctively humane temperament, the genuineness of his concerns, the lovely integrity of his lines.