This piece is filled with interesting examples of figurative language and imagery. The poet uses a variety of techniques, such as accumulation, to help define the scene for the reader. Everyone who encounters ‘Dead Deer’ should walk away feeling like they too experienced part of the crash. This is particularly true in the first stanza when the words run together like the events of the moment themselves.
Explore Dead Deer
‘Dead Deer’ by David Groff is a thoughtful poem about a speaker’s car crash and how they lost their life and killed a deer.
The poet begins by describing the suddenness of the crash and how, in an instant, they became part of the car, and the car became part of the deer. The moments ran together quickly and with little pause. Before the speaker even has time to think, they’re dying. There’s no time at all for last words or even an “I am sorry” directed towards God.
You can read the full poem here.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of death and nature. The poet’s speaker is aware, from the time the poem begins, that they’re going to die. It happens so fast due to the encounter with the deer and their own car, and they barely have time to think about it. They do take the time, though, in the lines of the poem, to explore the brief connection with nature, even using techniques like zoomorphism to draw deeper connections to it.
Structure and Form
‘Dead Deer’ by David Groff is a six-stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first is seven lines long, the second: four, the third: five, the fourth and fifth: two, and the sixth: five. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, despite this, it is possible to find a few examples of rhyme throughout the lines. For example, the perfect rhyme of half-rhyme of “blood” and “hood” in the first stanza.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “beast” and “blade” in line three of the first stanza and “sternums to spines” in the fourth line of the second stanza.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines.
- Simile: a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” For example, “the windshield goes dark as an eyelid” in stanza one.
Bolt, thwarted vault, late brake,
gasp of impact, temblor of thud—
black glass laced with lightning—
In the first stanza of ‘Dead Deer,’ the speaker begins with a series of words. These short statements bring the reader into the story in the middle of the action—something known as in media res. The reader is thrust directly into the plot without an introduction. The speaker is describing the act of braking suddenly because a deer has bolted out into the middle of the road. Unfortunately, they braked too late and were unable to avoid the animal.
The “beast drops on the blade of hood” is a dark line that suggests the deer was something beyond what it was and the scene even more violent than it had to be. Words like “seize,” “dark,” and “rip” add to this atmosphere of violence. The poet’s speaker compares the blood-covered windshield to “a horizon of blood.” The glass is “black” from the blood, and the few stops it doesn’t cover at lighter, like streaks of lightning.
I am hit with wheel, steel, doe
embracing me backward as speed
a bursting hug, sternums to spines,
In the second stanza, the speaker turns to a first-person narration to define their own experience. They said they were “hit with wheel, steel, doe.” They were crushed against the car “into a burst hug, sternums to spines.” It seems clear with these lines that the accident was a devastating one and that there was no airbag to protect against the impact.
past last words,
no extra second to follow the plan to tell
my sentence incomplete, a fragment, a run-on,
This happens so quickly that the speaker is left with no time to tell God “I am sorry” or to speak any last words. There’s an interesting moment in these lines when the speaker says that they had a plan to “tell / God” that they were sorry. This would’ve been a way of making repentance at the last moment in an attempt to appease a God if there is one. But, there was no time for it. Instead, their life ended suddenly.
no scenes spun out so fast
that the brain convulses with conclusion and love—
The fourth stanza alludes to the idea that one sees their life flash before their eyes before they die. But, in this case, “no scenes spun out so fast.” There was no feeling of conclusion and love that ferries one into the next life. Instead, the speaker is left with nothing.
I do not even think of you,
They didn’t even have time to “think of you.” The “you’ in these lines is someone of great importance to the speaker. The one person they’d like to share their last words with. If it had been up to the speaker, they would’ve shared something “to live by.” Here, the speaker is alluding to another stereotypical image of death. Someone is dying, and with their last words, they share an important philosophical statement.
I mesh corpse into carcass,
I am dead, dear,
I give you my fawn.
The final lines use anaphora, through the repetition of “I,” to describe the speaker’s new state. Now, he’s no longer human. He’s “corpse into carcass” and “dead.” Here, he brings the reader’s attention to the difference between a dead animal and a dead human being. One is a corpse the other is a carcass. Through this accident, the two are fused.
The poet’s speaker uses a metaphor in the last times and a technique known as zoomorphism. They refer to their “fawn” in the last lines. This is likely a way of describing their child, left behind and alone by the accident. It’s also likely the person to whom the speaker was directing their words in the previous stanza.
The tone is mournful and final. The speaker is well aware that this crash means their end and the deer’s end, and they don’t try to fight that fact.
The meaning is that sometimes death is quick and undeniably final. The speaker is left with no time to share parting words with their intended listener or to think them themselves.
Groff uses similes and metaphors. The poet also uses an example of an apostrophe. The latter occurs at the end of the poem when the poet’s speaker directs their words to the deer.
Groff wrote this poem to explore animal-human connections and what this scene could possibly look like if it played out. The suddenness of the death and the way the two beings died at the same time were likely of interest to him.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Dead Deer’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Death and the Moon’ by Carol Ann Duffy – conveys a sense of loss within her poem, exploring how still the world has become.
- ‘Death of a Naturalist’ by Seamus Heaney – shows a child’s fascination with the countryside, followed by a sharp shock when he senses the dark side of nature.
- ‘Eagle Poem’ by Joy Harjo – urges us to feel our inner self by emphasizing the idea of spirituality and self-knowledge.