Traveling Through the Dark

William Stafford’s poem “Traveling Through the Dark” examines the killing of a pregnant doe by a hit-and-run driver, and the dilemma faced by the speaker who is also a driver. People generally travel in the dark when there is some urgency or when they have some immediate destination to reach. Speaker is traveling in the dark with some special purpose. So he is in a hurry. On his way, he finds a dead deer on the edge of Wilson River.

He stops to drag off the dead deer into the canyon in order to avoid possible accidents. But on touching her side he finds that it is still warm and it contains a fawn waiting to be born. In death the traveler discovers life, but not normal life that emerges from the womb into the world, for the fawn is “never to be born.” This unhappy realization causes the traveler to hesitate. His mind is filled with mixed-up emotions: pity, anger, frustration, and confusion about how to act. He even wonders if the fawn can be saved, but knows all along that the fawn cannot be born when the mother is dead. The car is mechanically alive and its lights are pointing the speaker towards his destination. In the final couplet the traveler thinks hard for all, he knows that his love and pity towards the fawn cannot save it. He knows that his delay is only a waste of time, so he pushes the doe into the river and marches towards his destination.

Important Questions :

1. Explain the title of the poem. Who are all those driving through the dark?
Ans. The title of the poem “Traveling Through the Dark” is a very suitable one. People generally travel in the dark when there is some urgency or when they have some immediate destination to reach. So, the speaker of this poem is traveling in the dark with some special purpose. But when he finds a dead doe on the road, he is in dilemma. He is in confusion either to show deep love and emotion to an unborn but alive fawn in the belly of the doe or to save the passengers on his car as a dutiful driver. After much thoughtful meditation, he pushes the dead doe into the river in order to reach his destination and save the passengers. The ‘darkness’ indicates One of nature’s beautiful creatures has been killed and pitilessly left on the road, unburied and unmourned to cause future accidents. The driver’s inaction suggests moral darkness. The darkness also suggests the narrator’s confusion about what to do with the deer. “Traveling through the dark” also symbolizes the spiritual void of humankind in its insensitivity toward nature.

Question for Practice :

  1. What is the central idea of the poem?
  2. Show how the action develops stanza by stanza in the poem.
  3. What does the traveler feel when he touches the dead doe?
  4. Do you agree with what the narrator did? Why?
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