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Book of the Week — Traveling Through the Dark

Pioneers, for whom history was walking through dead grass,

and the main things that happened were miles and the time of day –

Traveling Through the Dark
William Stafford (1914-1993)
New York: Harper & Row, 1962
PS3537 T143 T7 1962

Poet William Stafford was born and raised in Kansas, a state now described as being in the middle of the United States. Its history, however, places it in the west of early European exploration and the later battles with Native Americans in the western war for supremacy.

The first European to set foot in present-day Kansas was the Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado, who explored it in 1541. Zebulon Pike neared its present-day border in 1806. Trapper Ezekial Williams spent time in the area between 1807 and 1809. In 1842, John C. Fremont mapped distances in the area as he travelled through it. Francis Parkman toured its plains in 1846. In 1878, the Third United States Cavalry fought battles with the Cheyenne in, as it was then termed, Indian Territory. It first began to be settled by white people as early as 1827, with the building of Fort Leavenworth. It was admitted into the Union in 1861. Hence, Stafford grew up in the West.

After attending the University of Kansas, he became a conscientious objector and spent World War II years working in California for the Civilian Public Service. In 1948, he began teaching at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, where he spent the rest of his life. His first book of poetry, Traveling Through the Dark, won the National Book Award for poetry in 1963.

Stafford’s poetry, an exploration of the human relationship with nature, using the western landscape to address universal themes, and recognizing Native American culture as “wisdom [derived] from intimacy with the wilderness,” has been described as the “highly personal daydreaming about the western United States.”

For more on the European encounter with the American West, visit our digital exhibition, The Roar of Distant Breakers.



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