Per his biography, William Stafford wrote 22,000 of which 3,000 were published. One striking feature of his career is its late start: Stafford was forty-eight years old when his first major collection of poetry was published, Traveling Through the Dark, which won the 1963 National Book Award for Poetry. Here is the title poem of that volume, one of his best known works:
TRAVELING THROUGH THE DARK
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.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
This poem is about making a difficult decision while you are traveling in life. Sometimes you have to do something that would normally not be right, but that would prevent further damage. I would tried to call a doctor or a policeman to at least save the fawn; but that is what makes this poem good -- it makes you think.
It is very hard to sing truth. But there is no other way to live. You have to think. You have to decide. And in the end, you have to sing.