Study Guide

Traveling through the Dark Sound Check

By William Stafford

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Sound Check

Have you ever noticed how some people are just better at telling stories or jokes? (Speaking of jokes, have you heard the one about the lit. major and the talking horse? No? Well, remind us; we'll tell you later).

One of the things that makes someone a good storyteller is the sense of confidence with which they tell the tale, and also their own personal sense of rhythm and timing. When you read this poem aloud, it sounds confident. It sounds sure of itself—not in an arrogant way, just in the sense that only the necessary information is included and it is presented in what feels and sounds like an effortless way. Each word sounds like it belongs exactly where it is. Nothing is wasted or out of place.

Part of what creates this confident sound is the strong alliteration and sound repetition in the poem's opening stanza:

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.

Hear all those hard D sounds? That repetition gives us a sense of a beat, even though the lines themselves aren't rhyming or singsong-y. But there is definitely a rhythm that gives us the sense that we are in good hands—the speaker knows where this is going.

Another thing that gives this one a confident tone is the way Stafford never wastes any words. He doesn't go on and on. When people don't know what they are talking about, they usually handle it one of two ways: they don't say anything, or, they say waaaaay too much. They go on and on trying to convince you they know what they are talking about, but with each new sentence they make it clearer and clearer that they have no idea what's going on. Stafford gives us just enough information to capture the scene and then he moves on: "that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead" (4). There's not much more to say. Stafford knows this and moves on. All in all, the straightforward, yet guiding sounds of the poem mirror the personality of our speaker. Don't believe us? Just check out our "Speaker" section for more.

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