Jonathan Holden: On "Traveling Through the Dark"

In this poem some of the possibilities of voice have been sacrificed for the sake of formal beauty: the prosody is patterned, the lines are in four-stress accentuals and lightly dabbed with touch rhymes. The artifice, like the poem's conscious construction around the word "swerve," is unobtrusive yet constitutes a definite presence in our experience of the poem. The rules of the pattern leave Stafford enough flexibility to sound conversational, yet the poem manages, while sounding conversational, to remind us of poetry, one reason being that the accentual prosody as deployed here by Stafford contains so many buried echoes of traditional prosody. For example, the opening fine consists of exactly ten syllables. Behind the strong-stress rhythm, we hear iambic pentameter. Most poems, in their very opening lines, declare their prosodic intentions in order to set up the reader's expectations so as to play off these expectations later in the poem, for special effects. When we run into other decasyllabic lines later in the poem--lines 7, 10, 14--and hit passages that have iambic phrasing, we begin to hear that the entire poem is playing two different prosodies in counterpoint, yet never obviously enough to seem artificial.


Title Jonathan Holden: On "Traveling Through the Dark" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Jonathan Holden Criticism Target William Stafford
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 21 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Style and Authenticity in Postmodern Poetry
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