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The poem “Traveling through the Dark” Analysis

Oct 8, 2019 at Literature Essays

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The poem “Traveling through the Dark” is one of the deepest works of William Stafford, and it was published in 1962. The main theme of the poem is the opposition between nature and technology. The author emphasizes the difficulties of searching the right way in life and choosing the moral side of the human being. The poem represents the situation in which a man has to make the right decision. The content and the language of “Traveling through the Dark” are equally important. William Stafford uses language, imagery, and metaphor to demonstrate considerable context and value of the poem. A narrator is a man who traveled at night and found a dead doe off the road. However, the vehicle is still working. Thus, Stafford shows that technology kills nature. The pregnant doe is murdered, and its unborn fawn and the car are two symbols that the author uses to reinforce the main theme of the poem. In addition to the symbols, an American poet exploits vibrant images, metaphor, symbolism, and personification, which strengthen the dynamic of the poem. These stylistic devices hint at the difficult decisions and their consequences in the man’s life. William Stafford shows death as a consequence of human decisions.


Stafford presents a metaphor to illustrate the theme of death. It relates the literal path of life, “that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead” (Stafford & Bly, 1993, p. 43), and calls the Wilson river Road. The author represents the road in a very dark and isolated way. However, the section of the road, where the narrator is traveling, is illuminated. Thus, it symbolizes the presence of human life. The way that the man had already traveled is a symbol of his past. The man cannot see anything because of the darkness, and he literally is unable to see the road. Thus, this darkness symbolizes the undiscovered future. Likewise, the future in the poem is also represented by the fawn. In spite of the mother’s death, the unborn animal is “alive, still, never to be born” (Stafford & Bly, 1993, p. 43). The car is a mechanized beast that kills nature. The vehicle is described by Stafford as the animal, “The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights/ under the hood purred the steady engine” (Stafford & Bly, 1993, p. 43). Citing the same authors, it is “aimed ahead” and emits “warm exhaust turning red”.

The speaker of the poem represents all mankind, “I thought hard for us all” (Stafford & Bly, 1993, p. 43). Thus, the future of mankind is undiscovered; it is involved in the fight between nature and technology. However, the tone of the speaker cannot be regarded as despaired or discouraged by the killing. Man’s attitude seems to be resolute, and he is ready to determine the destiny of the doe. The narrator is desperate to take away the dead doe from the road, and he drags the female deer into a nearby river. Thus, the speaker suggests that he made the right decision and saved both nature and mankind. In addition, the river in the poem is a symbol of the human inner world and the depth of man’s feelings and emotions. In the poem, the doe symbolizes the form of nature that is worthy pity. The description of the doe is connected with the man’s feelings when he touches the dead animal.

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William Stafford uses the language to underline the importance of his poem. The writer plays with a rhyme in a way to employ them near or half-rhymes and even off rhymes: “killing” and “belly”; “road” and “dead”; “engine” and “listen” (Stafford & Bly, 1993, p. 43). Thus, the author’s speech is natural, since the narrator sounds frank. The imperfect rhymes support the language not to be forced or artificial. “Traveling through the Dark” consists of four quatrains and a closing couplet. The poem is a representative of a camouflaged form, which reminds an extended sonnet. The narrative is informal, and it seems that the speaker can be the close friend or the relative. Stafford’s lyricism and attention to the details make the intimate feeling of home and relaxation.

William Stafford represents various conflicting worlds in the poem: the human and nature, mankind and the wilderness, machines and the environment, emotion and mind, life and death. The writer connects two different worlds and shows the consequences of human intervention in nature. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker’s mood is positive and calm, “Traveling through the dark I found a deer” (Stafford & Bly, 1993, p. 43). However, the narrator’s attitude changes in the next line, “dead on the edge of the Wilson River road” (Stafford & Bly, 1993, p. 43). Thus, Stafford expresses the crash of abuse one over another, which leads to disaster. The dynamics of the poem gradually increase and directs the reader through spiritual experience. The author creates a pause for reflection and making a decision, a dramatic moment, which allows the reader to feel the poem and its conflicts.


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The speaker describes this horrible event and makes the reader aware of the idea of the poem, which means human and technology harmful influence, which causes damage to wild nature. The pregnant female deer demonstrates the most vulnerable side of nature. In addition, the poem suggests a possible resolution of the conflict between nature and mankind. The last two lines of “Traveling through the Dark” represent the solution to the problem of nature damage. Man has to accept things as they are instead of worrying about the problem. The author justifies two sides of the conflict. On the one hand, the speaker pushes the female deer over the edge of the river and frees it from derision. On the other hand, the death of the helpless animal represents hopelessness of the world and man’s insensibility. However, William Stafford criticizes human behavior, which is the source of problems of nature. People are selfish and cruel towards the animals; they are careless to environmental problems.

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