The Road of Life

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In his poem, "Traveling through the Dark," William Stafford presents the reader with the difficulty of one man’s choice. Immediately, the scene is set, with the driver, who is "traveling through the dark" on a treacherous winding road when suddenly he sees a dead deer in the road. Right away, the speaker realizes what he must do: “It is usually best to roll them into the canyon.” The reader can recognize that this is not a new situation for the speaker and he makes it clear that to leave the deer lying in the road could cause an unsuspecting car to swerve and go toppling into the canyon, which “might make more dead.” The speaker then continues to report the details of what he did next: he got out of the car, which he parked just ahead of the deer carcass, and “stumbled back of the car.” He examines the deer and finds that she has “stiffened already, almost cold.” But as he drags her body over to the lip of the canyon, he notices that “she was large in the belly.” It appears that the doe is pregnant because when he felt her side it was warm. The baby was still alive. This turn of events causes the speaker to reconsider. Pushing a dead deer off the side of the cliff is one thing, but a deer whose baby is alive is different. He knows that if he pushes the dead doe over the cliff, he is killing the unborn baby, so “beside that mountain road [he] hesitated.” Although a car could come speeding around the turn at any time, the situation catches the speaker off guard and makes him wonder how could he just heartlessly toss away this innocent life? The speaker seems to be contemplating two options. He could try to deliver the baby to save its life, which he would prefer to do. But he quickly realizes that this option is not a realistic one at all. He couldn’t do a surgery like this on such a dark road and be able to keep the baby alive. The speaker thinks “hard” about what to do. He calls his hesitation “my only swerving,” because when he realized that the doe was pregnant, his decision to toss it over was reconsidered. But he finally comes to the conclusion that he has no choice but to try to save other humans before it’s too late so he “pushed her over the edge into the river.” Who is it best for, the deer or man? Is human life more important than animal life? These are questions that arise when reading the poem and are questions that the speaker must answer before the night is over. Through his use of metaphor, symbolism, and personification, Stafford alludes to the difficult decisions that occur along the road of life, especially death, and the consequences that are a result from those decisions. With the use of these devices, Stafford shows the theme of death as a consequence of these decisions and reveals the conflict between humans and nature. The poem uses four four-line stanzas and a concluding two-line verse. It is a narrative description of the speaker’s actions during the darkness. There are no regular rhyme schemes and it’s irregular in meter. But Stafford seemed to be playing with rhymes by using near rhymes like “road” and “dead”; “killing” and “belly”; “waiting” and “hesitated”; “engine” and “listen”; “swerving” and “river.” Stafford may be doing this so the poem doesn’t have a definite structure, giving it a more relaxed feeling when reading it. The poem seems to be set in a conversation style, where the speaker is talking out loud, reliving the event that occurred that night. To illustrate the theme of death, Stafford presents a metaphor relating the literal road to the road of life. In the first stanza, the road is described as being narrow and is called the "Wilson River road.” Also, the reader gets the sense that the road is dark and isolated. The only lit section of this road is the stretch that the speaker is travelling on. Symbolically, this represents the speaker’s current life. The road that has already been traveled symbolizes his past. The speaker may be unable to see his past because of the...
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