A Comparison Between “Traveling through the dark” and “A Noiseless, Patient Spider”
William Stafford’s "Traveling through the dark" is beautifully written poem that expresses one of life’s most challenging aspects. It is the story of a man’s 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 ...
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... 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 man’s journey through life. The physical in one, and the spiritual in the other.
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