Study Guide

Traveling through the Dark Death

By William Stafford

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Death, like tears on X-Factor or tweens at a Justin Beiber concert, is inevitable. But there are certain times when we are more likely to contemplate our own mortality: it's night. You're alone. Something bad has happened. "Traveling through the Dark" has all these components and it is practically impossible to read it without thinking about mortality. Go ahead. Try. We dare you.

Questions About Death

  1. If the poem just had a speaker and a dead doe, there would still be a mortality theme. But the addition of the still-living fawn adds a level of complexity. What does the fawn force us to consider? Does the addition of the fawn make it a better poem? Why or why not?
  2. Are people more likely to think about mortality at night? If so, why? What makes you consider your own mortality?
  3. Imagine a different poem. The speaker is a deer (remember, this is poetry, we can do anything) that has witnessed a single car accident resulting in the death of the driver. Is the mortality theme still present? Thematically, what about the poem stays the same? What changes?

Chew on This

Every decision we make is influenced by the awareness of our own mortality. Chew on that.

The best way to live a full, happy, productive life is to consider mortality as little as possible. Thinking about death all the time doesn't change anything for the better, now does it?

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