Travelling Through The Dark | Heritage of Words

Writer : William Stafford


The poem, “Travelling through the Dark”, depicts the internal conflict between the mind, a sense of responsibility, and heart, the compassion, of the narrator. At the same time, through the symbolic “Dark” of the title the poet is able to portray that the growing affinity of human with machine is tempting them to collide with the nature, a collision which will be threatening for all the living species on the planet, not only a doe.

On a dark night, the narrator was driving his car on Wilson River road. At the edge of the river he found a dead deer. His common sense told him to roll that deer into the gorge because the road was narrow and a slight carelessness might call for more accidents. He stopped his car and went near to it. It was a doe and had been dead. But when he dragged it he found that it was pregnant.

When he observed its belly closely, he sensed that the fawn inside it must be alive. But he also knew that it could not be born. The tragic fate of the fawn made him emotional. It was difficult for him to throw the body into the gorge because it would kill the baby instantly.

His dilemma and inactness blocked the street. He listened the people getting restless as everybody was in hurry to go. They immediately wanted the road to be opened. The narrator thought very deeply and concluded that it wasn’t practical to leave the dead body of the doe on the street. It could make more accidents. Therefore, he threw it into the gorge and chose to perform his duty.

        1.     Explain the title of the poem. Who are all those travelling through the dark ?

ANS:  By the title we know the speaker is driving a motor in the dark. He travels through the heights and along the jungle. He is nature lover. They are all nature lovers and naturalists who travel through the dark. “That road is narrow” indicates that the speaker is in the jungle by the side of the river, not in the highway.

        2.     Show how the action develops stanza by stanza.

ANS:  The poem has five stanzas and each stanza is interrelated. In the first stanza, the speaker finds a dead deer on the way and pulls it to the side. In the second stanza, he gets down the car and sees a deer killed immediately. It is stiff and cold. He pulls it off. In the third stanza, the speaker doesn’t act but thinks seriously about the living fawn inside the belly of the deer. In the fourth stanza, he explains the sounds of machine in the car in the isolated place. And in the last stanza, he pushes the deer into the river.

          3.     At what point does the physical action cease, to be replaced by another kind?

ANS:  In the third stanza, the physical action ceases and mental actions begins. The speaker feels the warm belly of the dead doe and seriously thinks about the future of the fawn and imagines different things about it.

       4.     How do the last two lines complete both types of action ?

ANS:  The last two lines complete both physical and mental activities. The first line of the last stanza shows mental activity and the speaker thinks about the living creatures and nature. But the last two line describes the physical activity of the speaker and he pulls the doe into the river. Both activities end.

       5.     What is the meaning of the last two lines of the poem ? Does the poem moralize?

ANS:  The last two lines in the poem means there is a problem in the environment and problem of life. The life problem can’t be corrected because the doe is already killed which is bitter reality. The dead body can pollute the environment and the speaker has morality to last duality of life and to keep environment clean so he completes his duty.

          6.     Do you think the reference to the alive but never-to-be-born fawn sentimental ?

ANS:  Yes, of course, the poet tries to make the poem sentimental and he opens the reality of the life of the fawn. They are made but dead without birth in the earth. It is bitter reality.

           7.     Explain the meaning of the word “swerve” in line 4 and line 17. Does the speaker “swerve” ?

ANS:  In line four of the word “swerve” means to change the direction of the car and in line seventeen the word “swerve” means to change the idea. In line four, the speaker doesn’t move or change the direction of his car because it makes the condition of deer worse and in line seventeen he changes his mind and pushes the deer into the river instead of thinking about the fawn’s fate.

          8.     Stanza 4 is the break in the narrative. How do you explain it’s significance in the poem ?

ANS:  From first stanza to third stanza the speaker describes the condition if deer and it’s fawn’s fate but immediately in the fourth stanza, the writer changes the subject and describes his situation. It is important because there is a part of life that they should continue their journey. The break occurs because the poem moves from physical description to the mental state of the poet. He changes his mind and decides to push the dead deer into the river.  

       9.     What is the tone of the poem: ironical, sympathetic, and indifferent?

  ANS:                        The tone of the poem is ironical. At first, the poet shows sympathy on the fawns but at last he ends the life of the fawn. The poet seems nature lover but kills the doe and it’s unborn kid. The reader shows love to the fawn but not to the doe. So, in conclusion, the poem has ironical tone although there is sympathy on fawn.

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