William Stafford

(January 17, 1914 – August 28, 1993 / Kansas)

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Traveling Through The Dark


Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • Rookie - 100 Points Nicholas Campbell (10/23/2014 1:21:00 PM)

    Someone online, I thought it here at Poem Hunter, remarked that the whole premise of the poem is false, because, he wrote, the unborn deer lay in its mother dead more than three hours. Stafford didn't say that in the poem: he said a recent kill, and that may mean very recent; the deer was still warm! You stand corrected, whomever you are. Nick Campbell (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 770 Points Francis Lynch (2/17/2014 5:09:00 PM)

    You want to read an amazing poem on the same topic? David, by Earl Birney. Long narrative poem by one of Canada's (and the world's) great modern poets. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie John Mcdonald (11/29/2012 12:29:00 AM)

    I think the man made the right decision in not saving the unborn deer, had he saved it, it would have died of starvation and dehydration and so what he really did was save the deer from a brief painful life. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kadeja Bailey (1/24/2010 10:27:00 AM)

    the speaker is having a moral dilema the poem is about nature and death and the sadness that comes with it (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Nick Capozzoli (8/1/2007 1:28:00 AM)

    It is technically not a sonnet as regards either line number or rhyme scheme, but it has the feel of a sonnet and is a very good poem. The rhythm of the five-beat line and the images are masterful. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie E F (8/30/2006 4:28:00 PM)

    A sad poignant moment. A live being lives on beyond and then dies. Almost unbearable (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Greg Hutchinson (9/18/2005 1:51:00 AM)

    This is a very fine sonnet. Its 7 out of 10 'user rating' is a reflection on the readers, not the poem. I wonder how many readers even recognized that it is a sonnet. The half-rhymes and loose iambic give it a prosy surface without sacrificing the rhythm, which is perfect. Take the last line: 'Then pushed her over the edge into the river, ' exactly echoes the sense - with the first cluster of stressed syllables suggesting the pushing and the last, rushing syllables suggesting the release and fall.

    By the way, I wonder why the order to choose a number wasn't accompanied by any number. I couldn't vote! I'd have given it a 10. (Report) Reply

Read all 14 comments »

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