Traveling Through the Dark

by William Stafford
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In the poem "Traveling Through The Dark"  by William Stafford, What does the line, "I thought hard for us all—my only swerving" mean?

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In this poem, the speaker encounters a dead deer, recently run over, on the side of the road. He stops the car, knowing it is best to push the deer's carcass over the side of the canyon. That way, nobody will swerve into oncoming traffic or worse, swerve into the...

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In this poem, the speaker encounters a dead deer, recently run over, on the side of the road. He stops the car, knowing it is best to push the deer's carcass over the side of the canyon. That way, nobody will swerve into oncoming traffic or worse, swerve into the canyon, and be killed because of the dead deer blocking the road.

However, the speaker is stopped for a moment by his realization that an unborn calf still lives in the dead deer's womb. What the line "I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—" means is that the thought of the living baby deer makes him hesitate for or a moment and, like a car, threaten to "swerve" off his straight path of rolling the carcass into the canyon. He is not just getting rid of a dead object but also a living being. He has to remind himself that the baby deer is already condemned to death by its mother's death. What is usually a routine task fills him with a sudden compassion for how complicated and messy life is. The poem does end with the speaker pushing mother and baby into the river below.

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This second-to-last line in Stafford's "Traveling through the Dark" suggests that the poem's speaker is contemplating the repercussions of his two potential actions--pushing the doe's body into the river and killing the unborn fawn within her or risking his own life by standing on the curve of a narrow mountain road while trying to save the fawn.

The "I thought hard for us all" portion of the line is a reference to the "group" identified in the previous stanza. Here, the wilderness is personified as though all of the natural world is watching and waiting to see the speaker's decision. The "my only swerving" portion of the line is an echo from the poem's fourth line ("to swerve might make more dead") and suggests the degree and quality of thought being put into this decision.

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