A Comparison of “Traveling Through the Dark” and “The Black Snake”
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“Traveling Through the Dark,” by William Strafford and “The Black Snake,” by Mary Oliver use animals to express their thoughts in these poems. The animals play an important role in determining what the writers want to convey through its function, the relation between the speaker and animal, as well as the tone of the poem.
Strafford does a great job of illustrating the function of the animal in “Traveling Through the Dark.” The deer is dead on the side of the road from a hit and run and the speaker wants to be respectful of the deer. The speaker is about to “roll them into the canyon” (3, Stafford), when he realizes that the deer is pregnant. This causes the speaker to rethink the importance of life while standing there in the dark. The speaker has very mixed feelings about what he should do as “the wilderness listen(s)” (16, Stafford) for his final decision. The deer is rolled “into the canyon” (3, Stafford) after all because the speaker does not want the fawn to embark the same future as its mother.
Oliver also does a great job of illustrating the function of the animal in “The Black Snake.” The snake in this poem does not think anything will happen to it as it crosses the road. Unaware of the dangers of life the snake gets ran over by a car making the speaker think about death. Death can happen to anyone at anytime and the speaker uses the snake to demonstrate this but stating “death, that is how it happens” (4, Oliver). The speaker stops and buries the snake “into the bushes” (8, Oliver). The speaker thinks that the dead snake is “beautiful and quiet/as a dead brother” (10-11, Oliver) and realizes how short life is.
In “Traveling Through the Dark,” by Stafford, the speaker relates to the deer in a personal way. The speaker feels a connection between the deer and himself because he has a great concern for animals. The speaker wants to do the right thing for the deer and is angry that mankind can be so careless with animals by stating, “to swerve might make more dead” (4, Stafford). The speaker is compassionate towards the deer.
On the other hand, in “The Black Snake,” by Oliver, the snake makes the speaker think about how death happens to everyone and animals seem to have no idea that death is close by stating, “It says to oblivion: not me” (20, Oliver)! The speaker’s connection to the snake is not very close but she shows some compassion when she buries the snake. The speaker is somewhat optimistic about the snake’s death.
The tone in “Traveling Through the Dark” is angry and sad because the speaker does not want another deer to be killed by a hit and run. The decision to save the deer’s baby is in the speakers hands and he decides not to save the baby so that it can avoid the fate of its mother. The speaker seems sad about his decision by stating “I thought hard for us all” (17, Stafford).
In “The Black Snake” the tone seems to be care free. The speaker seems to brush the snakes death off as though one would expect that from a snake because they do not know any better and life must move on. The speaker states, “It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward/happily all spring through the green leaves before/he came to the road” (22-23, Oliver).
She ponders the thought of death and how it can happen quickly bit that doesn’t change her attitude toward the situation.
Mary Oliver and William Strafford use animals in their poetry to show the relationship between humans and animals. They demonstrate how humans differ from animals through the use of the animals function, relationship to the speaker, and the tone.
Oliver, Mary. “The Black Snake.”Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:Prentice, 2007. 698.
Stafford, William. “Traveling Through the Dark.”Literature and the Writing Process.
Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 8th ed. UpperSaddle River, NJ: Prentice, 2007. 697.