“Traveling Through the Dark” William Stafford

April 1, 2018 General Studies

Jennifer Sanchez Professor Sargent Poetry 165W December 18, 2009 {draw:frame} “Traveling Through the Dark”: William Stafford In the poem, “Traveling Through the Dark”, William Stafford uses alliteration, imagery and natural speech in order to convey the disheartening emotions that come with being forced to make a life threatening decision. He orders the images in his tale to allow our minds and emotions with his as he works his way through making a choice; man or nature. The poem lacks a regular meter making appear conversational as he tells us his story, but he also sets up scenes and describes the imagery so well to make it more dramatic.

Each stanza is set up to describe a different part of the story that is then summed up and continued in the next, making “cliff-hangers” that causes tension and excitement for the reader as they continue. Although the poem does not contain a rhyme scheme, Stafford tends to make the words of every other line share a consonant or vowel sound. The poem was also written in past tense to show that this is a memory being descried to us which allows us to feel as though we are sitting nearby and listening. Stafford describes the setting for us in this first stanza; he was driving at night when he ran into a deer lying in the road.

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He starts off with the positive image of encountering a deer while driving along a country side, something most people find to be a desirable experience. But almost immediately after that he informs us that he “found [the] dear dead on the edge of the Wilson River road”, connecting the two lines with alliteration forcing us to slow to carefully pronounce the two words as we begin to realize what is really happening here. Stafford uses the fact that it is night to bring a more lonely and eerie feel as well as imagery for that dark and sad situation that he is going through.

He then tells us that he should remove the dear from the road because if another driver were to “swerve” around it on this narrow road it “might make more dead”, again using alliteration to emphasize the words. The words “road” and “dead”, the last words of lines 2 and 4 do not rhyme but contain the same “d” sound at the very end of the word. We can assume that he has been through this before, showing us his knowledge over what should be done to avoid the possible effects of the dear in the road.

In the second stanza Stafford describes how he begins to drag the dear off the road and displays images to paint a picture; the tail lights shining as he travels to the back of his car toward the dead animal on this dark night. He walks into the tail lights of the car symbolizing gaining knowledge as he slowly gets closer to the dear and learns more about what’s going on. He speaks about the dear in the same order that these things were discovered, he probably first saw “the heap” in the road, as he got closer he realized it was “a doe” leading him to assume it was a “recent killing”.

Again Stafford brings us more imagery, portraying to us the cold, stiff feel of the deceased creature in his hands as the man hauls it towards the river before he realizes “she was large in the belly”. Although this poem doesn’t have a rhyme scheme, every other line in this stanza contains consonance, “car” sharing a “c” sound with “cold” and “killing” sharing an “l” sound with “belly”, both in the same places of the syllables. Stafford then makes tension by making the reader have to wait until the next stanza in order to discover what it is that is making the dear stomach so large.

In the third stanza Stafford is forced to make a life threatening decision. He orders his thoughts the way that they probably would have came to him; first how he felt her side, feeling warmth that then led him to rationalize that “her fawn lay there waiting. ” The next line is mush shorter, bringing attention to itself while being written with many comas to force you to read it slowly as the horror of the situation sinks in, the poor fawn, “alive, still, never to be born. ” With his newly found sentiment for the doe caused by concern for her child, he now finds he has a decision to make.

If he rolls the deer off the road into the river now, he will be killing the baby, but he doesn’t have much time to save it because a car can drive down the road any minute causing them all to risk dying. Just like the stanza before it, every other line shares a consonant sound; “reason” and “born” sharing the “n” sound at the ends of the words as well as “waiting” and “hesitated” sharing the “t” sound at the beginning of their last syllables. Now we are forced to wait to see what decision he makes until the next stanza.

A short moment in time is then described for us as Stafford decides what he’s going to do. It is as though time stops while he makes a life threatening decision; save the life of the fawn or prevent the deaths of future travelers. The object that caused this in the first place is described mostly throughout the stanza, the car with its “lowered parking lights”, its engine still on as he stands in its light. Then nature is introduced last, as Stafford describes that it is so silent he could even “hear the wilderness listen”.

As he ponders with not much time left he realizes that he must sacrifice the fawn because he is unable to deliver or keep it alive and no matter what it will lose its life. The words “engine” and “listen” at the ends of lines 14 and 16 both contain the sound “in” in their last syllable although it is not spelled the same way. Although he would love to be able to at least save the unborn baby, it would not make much sense to risk the lives of himself and another driver to try to help a hopeless cause.

This last stanza is only two lines long, standing out not only in appearance but also in importance. He decides to go with his first choice made in the beginning of the poem, and actually borrows the word “swerving” from the first stanza. Because of their importance as the conclusion to this story, Stafford loads them up with assonances and consonances to force to carefully pronounce and understand each word. In the line “my only swerving” each word has a “y” sound in their last syllable, and the words “swerving” and “river” both contain a “v” sound at the beginning of their last syllables.

He mentions that he “thought hard for us all” referring to the lives of the fawn, the life of other drivers on the road, and his own life and conscience. Finally our dramatic adventure ends sadly with the image of him pushing the mother and child into the river to their death. In the end our traveler chose man over nature when he decided to save the life of a fellow driver rather that the fawn. Although he didn’t have much of a choice, the poem illustrates how man and technology are threatening nature, and how they are being “pushed” away to make more room for man.

Its ironic how the doe (representing nature) was not only killed by a man made object the moment it entered their turf, it was also pushed off a man made object, the road, back into nature, the river. Normally roads and rivers are both symbols for the journey of life, in the poem it continues that way with man thriving on their roads, while the does makes the river its grave. Stafford hoped to make us realize what is happening to nature as man and technology grow so that we can all try to avoid ending up in a situation like the one he was in.


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