William Staffords “Traveling through the dark” is beautifully written poem that expresses one of lifes most challenging aspects. It is the story of a mans solitary struggle to deal with a tragic event that he encounters. Driving down a narrow mountain road, Traveling through the dark, the narrator of the poem encounters a deer. This line might fool the reader into believing the poem has a happy theme however, the first word of the second line reverses this belief. The deer is actually dead on the edge of the Wilson River Road (2, 911).
The traveler decides to send the deer over the edge of the canyon, because to swerve might make more dead (4, 911). This line indicates that if he fails or swerves in his decision, the deer could cause an accident on the narrow road that might cost more lives. The narrator proceeds with his unfortunate task. He approaches the deer and observes that it is a recent killing. He drags her off to the side of the road, noting that she is large in the belly (8, 911). The narrator soon discovers that the deer is pregnant, and that her fawn is still alive.
At this moment he hesitates, distraught over the decision he knows he must make. Faced by the implications of this decision, the narrator considers his surroundings: his car stares ahead into the darkness with its lowered parking lights, purring its steady engine; he stands in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red, (15, 912) and can hear the wilderness listen (16, 911). All of these describe the anxiety he feels about his responsibility. The personified car is expectantly awaiting his decision, eager to get moving again.
The wilderness takes on human abilities also, silently witnessing the outcome it knows must be, but wishing it was otherwise. As the narrator ponders all of this, the taillights of the car illuminate him in their red light. This is reflective of the heightened emotions he is experiencing, but also brings to mind the bloody fate of the deer and her unborn fawn. The narrator thinks hard for us all (17,912) and proceeds with the task he had committed to since the beginning. He pushes the deer and her unborn fawn over the edge into the river. There is much more to Traveling through the dark than its literal story.
The title, along with the story itself, suggests mans disregard for nature. Humans seem to travel through life like a horse with blinders on, oblivious to the consequences or implications of their actions. The driver who killed the deer is an example of this theme. He was also traveling through the dark, as the deer was a recent killing. The fact that he left it in the middle of the road, with no further thought for it or anyone else behind him, implies his immoral or dark nature. The main theme of the poem however, is the sadness and misfortune that accompany us on our journey through life.
The Wilson River Road, in which the events of the poem take place, is symbolic of the road of life that we all travel upon. The darkness and the setting of the poem point to the seclusion and indecision that we experience when dealing with lifes tragedies. Many people feel as confused as the narrator does when he was stumbling back of the car (5, 911) in his attempt to do the right thing. In his moment of decision, though, the only company the narrator had was the silent and unheeding world around him. Unfortunately, many situations we must face in life are like this.
People are not always around to help us through hard times, and most tragedies, such as death, are obstacles that we must overcome individually. As described in the poem though, death is an inevitability that we cannot change, and therefore should not deter us from our path. We must learn to deal with tragedies such as death, as they are unavoidable. These events do have an everlasting effect on us, but they should not deter us from our natural course. Some may think that the less straightforward nature of A Noiseless, Patient Spider would have nothing in common with this poem.
In “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” Whitman uses the spider as a symbol for how he sees his own soul. Each line of the first stanza, where he describes the spider, has an approximate match in the second stanza, where he describes his soul, and the journey it is taking. He compares his soul to the spider because he sees in the spider’s actions a mirror to the actions of his soul. The spider is noiseless and patient, not because it isn’t eager to get underway, but rather because it “knows” that the best journeys require an element of rationale.
To be impatient would most likely result in the spider’s death. Whitman sees his soul in much the same light. He feels that it is on the brink of learning and doing great things, but to rush into things would cause more harm than good. His soul stands alone to better carefully consider how best to proceed. “It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself” (4, 809). Whitman is making a reference to what he will later mention in the poem, and that is the idea of the bridge that the soul will have to cross in order to access a new sphere.
This metaphysical bridge will have to be quite long, and he wishes to underline this point by making the thread that the spider will use to launch itself into the air drawn out to an extreme. The spider is tireless in its quest, and so too is the soul. The soul, like the spider, is flinging out a “gossamer thread to catch somewhere” (10, 810). And like the spider, the soul is willing and able to wait until the moment shall arrive that is just right to begin its travels. However, like the spider’s fragile silk, this bridge is also frail and prone to breakage from a careless act or an unheeding nature.
So, in spite of the careful and deliberate act of flinging out a filament to catch on some unknown “sphere”, it is possible that the soul may never reach its destination. For Whitman, that is both the excitement and the scariness of it all. Perhaps he is communicating to the reader the idea that though one may never get to where one is going, still, the journey is very important. Although by the language and the elements within these two poems seem very different, the interpretation suggests that they both discuss mans journey through life. The physical in one, and the spiritual in the other.