William Stafford (1914-1993) was a distinguished American poet, having written 63 volumes of poetry and prose. His first great collection of poems, Traveling in the dark, won the National Book Award in 1963. In 1970 he was named a Poet at the Library of Congress, a position now known as “Poet Laureate”.
Poets, in general, do not address a wide audience. Another poet, Don Marquis, remarked that writing poetry is like laying rose petals in the Grand Canyon and listening to an echo. Nevertheless, the poets have something to say that is worth hearing.
By finding their own voice, they have stubbornly resisted the wave of political correctness that saturates their environment. Poets don’t run for office or try to be popular. Yet, as Percy Bysshe Shelley said, they are the “unrecognized legislators of the world”. Consider, for example, the influence of Shakespeare.
In a poem Stafford calls “Traveling Through the Dark”, which shares the title of his National Book of the Year collection, he tells the story of a motorist who comes across the carcass of a deer at the side of a road. narrow. He realizes that the right thing to do, with the safety of other drivers in mind, is to roll the animal through the canyon.
Something, however, makes him hesitate. Although the doe “stiffened”, she “had a big belly”. He touched her side and found it warm, leading her to realize that “her fawn lay there, waiting, alive, still, never to be born”. He “thought a lot” about this unfortunate and embarrassing development.
Stafford and his wife raised four children. He was a pacifist and during World War II he worked in the civil service camps. He was a man who respected life and abhorred violence.
“Traveling Through the Dark” draws attention to three factors that abortion advocates persist in denying. First, the fawn is identifiable. It is not an amorphous collection of cells or something of an unknowable character. It’s a fawn. In the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling, Judge Harry Blackmun denied the nature of the unborn child, stating that the term “person” applied only after birth.
Second, the fawn is living. It is a living entity and, if it were to abort, it would be killed by an act of violence. Blackmun argued that the court could not, and therefore did not need, “to resolve the difficult question when life begins”.
Third, the fawn has a dynamic inclination. He is waiting to be born. The tragedy of the fawn is that it will never be able to scoot freely in the forest or do any of the things that a fawn is about to become an adult deer. The driver mourns the loss of the fawn as life advocates mourn the loss of millions of aborted babies. the Roe vs. Wade decision was, as Judge Byron White said in his dissent, an act of “raw judicial power”.
Justice Robert Bork was defeated in his bid to become a Supreme Court justice primarily because he respected the Constitution and called Roe vs. Wade unconstitutional. As President Ronald Reagan, who appointed Bork, later observed, “I believe, as he [Bork] fact, that judges should interpret rather than rewrite the Constitution that the Founding Fathers crafted with such care and precision.
The poem describes a double tragedy: the death of the deer and the impending death of its offspring. The poet, through his character, sees the situation with sadness. The deer and its fawn were deprived of life.
On January 21, the annual March for Life will take place in the nation’s capital. Next year, Roe vs. Wade will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Thousands of people will show their support for life, in an annual event which, insofar as The New York Times and other major newspapers are concerned, never happens.
The march will speak with the voice of a poet, but also with the knowledge of a scientist. Abortion is the murder of a human being who, in the warmth of his mother’s womb, is waiting to be born. Walkers are, on the subject of abortion, both pacifists and conscientious objectors. But their courageous spirit will not be honored by the multitude who live under the ideological delusion that taking innocent, unborn human life is only a choice.
In a sense, we are all waiting to be born. Mr. Scott Peck wrote A world waiting to be born: civility rediscovered. Yet we must ask the troubling question: “How will the world regain its civility if it continues to deny the right to be born to millions of unborn innocent human beings?” The proponents of abortion have created a trap for themselves. By denying the birth of others, they deny the birth of themselves.
Christ commands each of us to be born again. But a second birth can only take place if it is preceded by a first birth.
The factor that distinguishes poetry from prose is that how it is said is as important, if not more important, than what is said. A poem has a communicative advantage over prose because it combines what is said with how it is said. There are no hymns, odes or psalms praising abortion.
A good poet is sensitive to life. Either he venerates its mystery or he opposes its desecration. Stafford’s poem was published in 1962, 11 years before Roe vs. Wade. It was written in a cultural atmosphere devoid of any strong incitement to legalize abortion.
Sir Herbert Read has argued that the artist anticipates later social experiences. He lives, as the psychotherapist Rollo May attests, “at the frontiers of society…with one foot in the future.”
William Stafford tells us, from the past, that if the death of an unborn fawn is a tragedy, the death of an unborn human being is even more so.