music in their poetry that might have escaped us otherwise.
After William Stafford died in 1993 at age seventy-nine, his son, Kim, wrote Early Morning: Remembering My Father, a memoir whose title alluded to Stafford's habit of rising early to spend a couple hours alone writing poems. This unrelenting daily practice informed much of Stafford's work. In one of the great traditions of American writing, the process of artistic creation became for Stafford as important as its result.
This does not mean that Stafford didn't write memorable poems. The title poem from the book that won the National Book Award in 1963, Traveling through the Dark, seems to have been included in every anthology of American poetry published since. It is so well known and its memorable quietness so widely (and often poorly) imitated that it has become possible to overlook its enduring power. That poem famously begins:
| 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:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
The poet gets out to do this work, but feels the warmth of an unborn fawn in the belly of the doe. For a brief moment, the world seems to focus on the man, the car, and the dead deer in the night. He concludes: "I thought hard for us all my only swerving / then pushed her over the edge into the river."