I work for a wonderful worldview camp called Emmaus Forum, and this last week, I spent 5 days discussing poetry with high schoolers. It was loads of literary fun, especially our discussion of William Stafford’s “Traveling through the Dark”, a rather widely anthologised poem which some have called too popular. I think it’s a great one for beginning poetry readers because of its ostensible sadness and beauty layered over its deeper connections and profundity. The minute the students begin to see the connection between the car, the deer, Stafford, and themselves is a beautiful moment that every teacher of literature should witness if they have ever doubted poetry’s power.

Interestingly, such a sad poem has often prompted parody, including a subtle and delightful piece by Loren Goodman that appeared in Poetry in the July/August issue of 2005. My students had a wonderful time theorising about their own versions of parodies, an challenged me to write one. So here it goes:

Traveling back through the dark

Traveling back through the dark

It seems like I’ve been here before,

This tunnel of trees, this canyon yawning

To my left. I hit a deer here an hour ago.

I couldn’t leave it, heave it over the edge (I

threw out my back last year loading dead

Racoons into the back of a truck [dont ask])

Or shoot it, so I drove the lonely road to town

To get the vet. Dr. Clark says he’s seen this before,

that the baby can be delivered even hours after the

Mother’s departure. I hope for all of us; myself, the

mother, Dr. Clark. My headlights tell another tale,

A simple heroic couplet: Dying deer/ isn’t here.

But a man’s standing, with flashlight and notebook,

And are those tears in his eyes? He looks up at me in the glow

Of the headlights, red eyes flashing. I killed your deer, mister,

And all the world will think it wise.

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2 thoughts on “Traveling Through the Dark

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