Traveling Through the Dark
Stafford furtively conceals the profound meaning of his poem behind a story of the narrator, who stops alongside the road to care for a deer. The genius behind poem is better understood when the superficial meaning is expressed deeply.
Driving down a narrow mountain road, traveling through the dark, the narrator of the poem encounters a deer. The deer is actually dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. The traveler decides to send the deer over the edge of the canyon, because to swerve might make more dead. This line indicates that if he fails or swerves in his decision, the deer could cause an accident on the narrow road that might cost more lives.
The narrator prepared with this purpose, proceeds with his task. He approaches the deer and observes that it is a recent killing. He drags her off to the side of the road, noting that she is large in the belly. The narrator soon discovers that the deer is pregnant, and that her fawn is still alive. At this moment he hesitates, distressed over the decision he knows he must make.
Now, the narrator considers his options and outcomes of both decisions. His car stares ahead into the darkness with its lowered parking lights, purring its steady engine; he stands in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red, and can hear the wilderness listen. This is an outstanding display of imagery that describes the anxiety the narrator feels about his responsibility. The personified car is expectantly awaiting his decision, eager to get moving again. The wilderness takes on human abilities also, silently witnessing the outcome it knows must be, but wishing it was otherwise. As the narrator contemplates all of this, the taillights of the car illuminate him in their red light. This is reflective of the heightened emotions he is experiencing, but also brings to mind the bloody fate of the deer and her unborn fawn.
There is much more to this poem than its literal story. The title, along with the story itself, suggests man s overlook for nature. People seem to travel through oblivious to the consequences of their actions. The driver who killed the deer is an example of this theme. He was also traveling through the dark, as the deer was a recent killing. The fact that he left it in the middle of the road, with no further thought for it or anyone else behind him, implies his dark nature.
The main theme of the poem however, is the sadness and misfortune that accompanies everyone s journey through life. The Wilson River Road, in which the events of the poem take place, is symbolic of the road of life that we all travel upon. The darkness and the setting of the poem point to the isolation and uncertainty that we experience when dealing with life s misfortunes. Many people feel as confused as the narrator as he was stumbling back of the car in his attempt to do the right thing. Unfortunately, many situations we must face in life are like this. People are not always around to help us through hard times. As described in the poem though, death is a certainty that we cannot change, and therefore should not frighten us from our path. Like the narrator s car staring toward the road, anxious about moving on, we all are eager to put these events behind us and continue on with life. This last aspect is symbolized by the river in the poem that runs adjacent to the road. As we push life s difficulties off to the side, they fall into this symbolic river like the deer and are swept farther and farther away from us by the current of time, allowing us to continue on our way with the difficulties behind us.
William Stafford does an excellent job of holding to his objective in this poem. His style of story telling kept his main theme at focus. His story clarifies the confused nature of life. We must learn to deal with tragedies such as death, since they are unavoidable. These events do have an everlasting effect on us, but they should not lead us away from our natural course.