The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark” is a short poem of eighteen lines, divided into four quatrains and a closing couplet. The title clearly describes both the literal and the figurative situation in the poem as well as its governing metaphor: The speaker himself is traveling through the dark on a narrow mountain road, and by extension, so is everyone.

The poem is written in the first person, giving an immediacy and directness to the experience; the reader is there with the poet, though he tells the story in the past tense. Many poets choose to speak through a created voice, or persona, but one senses in this poem that Stafford is speaking directly from his own experience. By sharing his personal experience so vividly, Stafford gives it an immediacy, authority, and power that helps one make it a part of one’s own.

The first stanza begins with a description of the setting and the context of the events which follow. The speaker is traveling at night on a narrow mountain road and comes upon the body of a dead deer. Because the road is so narrow, he realizes that the dead deer is a hazard to other drivers, who might swerve suddenly to avoid it and drive off the road into the river canyon and be killed.

Stanza 2 shows him getting out of the car to look at the deer; he discovers that it is a doe, only recently dead. As he drags it off the road, he realizes that its belly is unusually large. In stanza 3, he discovers...

(The entire section is 507 words.)