Study Guide

Traveling through the Dark Choices

By William Stafford

Choices

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. (1-3)

This poem starts off with a choice. What to do about the dead deer? The speaker seems to know what he should do, but that word "usually" allows us a moment to consider the possibility of not doing it. Shmoop usually has peanut butter and jelly for lunch, but today we are going to have sushi. (Mmm, sushi.)

By including that one word, Stafford draws us into the poem and subtly pushes us to think about what we would do in this situation. It's probably cold, we know it's dark, and it might be dangerous to pull over and get out of the car on this narrow mountain road. What to do?

If Stafford had written, "I pulled over to move the deer out of the road to prevent an accident," our minds probably wouldn't go through the same process of considering the choice, the options, and the consequences.

her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated. (10-12)

What seemed like a pretty simple choice for our speaker suddenly got a little trickier when he realized there was still a living fawn inside the doe. What made the speaker pause? After all, the fawn is doomed, right? There is no indication in the poem that there is any hope of saving the fawn. The speaker, as far as we know, is not a veterinary surgeon. Even if the speaker changes his mind and doesn't push the doe into the river, the fawn is going to die either way. Why the hesitation?

I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river. (17-18)

Despite the speaker's hesitation, he goes ahead with his original choice and pushes the dead deer into the river. In this final couplet, we discover what made the speaker hesitate, or swerve from his original course of action: he was thinking "hard for us all." Who was he thinking about exactly? The dead doe, the living fawn, and himself? Perhaps. What other possibilities exist? Who else could he have been thinking about?

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