Aquainted With The Night Essay, Research Paper
The Darkness of being “Acquainted with the Night”
When reading poetry such as Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the night,”
one must give special attention to the aspects associated within it, in order to gain a better understanding of the poem’s content. More specifically the aspects of tone, voice, language, setting and form, which shape the readers perception and feelings toward the poem. In these aspects Frost adds an unusual dimension to his lyric poem “Acquainted with the night,” aspects that convey lament, guilt and confusion, all related to a terrifying sense of personal loss. Frost was a “folk philosopher,” concerned mainly with philosophical problems in an experimental manner. Many of his poems deal with lonely wanderings and melancholic views on such things as existence and the reasons for his problematic life being constantly between “affirmation and negation”(Barry, 1973). His experimentations were primarily in tone and voice, “Frost ranged in tone from the lyric to the narrative, from the dramatic to the meditative,” and “Acquainted with the Night” is no exception to this experimentation (Barry, 1973).
”Acquainted with the Night” is in fact a lyric poem directly portraying the author’s emotions concerning a specific event in his life. Although it is not clearly stated in his poem, the subject of “Acquainted with the Night” deals with the grievances, confusion and guilt most likely found in the death of a loved one. Frost is well known for “extending the subject matter of lyric poetry as well as bringing extraordinary sophistication and originality”(Barry, 1973).
Frost’s poem “Acquainted with the night” is constructed of four stanzas, the first three being tercet’s and the fourth and final being a quatrain, above all it contains fourteen lines all of similar length. The rhyme scheme of the first tercet is ABA, the second BCB and the third being CDC, while the quatrain contains a DADAA rhyme scheme. The superficial construction of the poem brings meaning and understanding to the content as well as evoking emotions from the way the poem is structured. The speaker repeatedly uses “I have” in order to structure the first two stanzas, and does not use it again until the last line of the last stanza. The constant use of “I have” tells the reader that there is something significantly troubling about expressing these feelings, perhaps there is a build up of emotion, making these feelings impossible to be expressed in one or two lines. Following the repetition, the third and fourth stanzas break down and the reader does not see the use of “I have” until the last line of the poem. The absence of the repeated “I have” suggests a different frame of thought, or an extension of thought from the first two stanzas, taking the poem into another dimension of detail. Even so, the speaker reiterates the first line as the last line, implying that they are still trapped between the sorrow and guilt of personal loss.
The rhyme scheme (ABA,BCB) of the first and second stanzas, signal to the reader that there is a significant rhythm in addition to the use of repetition. The rhyme scheme stays basically intact throughout the first three tercets before becoming disrupted in the final stanza. In the same way, the rhyme scheme shows how the speaker breaks down when recollecting past events.
The speaker talks in a sullen methodical tone displaying the hurt and anguish associated with the sense of personal loss. The pause in thought during the second line , “I have walked out in rain – and back in rain” as well as the many end stopped lines used in each stanza, suggest a slow thoughtful process of deep sorrow. In this way the poem demands a slow heartfelt reading, taking away the speaker’s sense of well being or happiness if it was read without these end stops. Furthermore by using such words as “saddest,” “unearthly,” “rain” and “night,” there becomes a dark, depressive tone involved. The use of such aspects of tone, in particular, the chosen words, the pauses and many end marks making the poem slow and almost painful, give the reader a sense of melancholy and personal loss evoked by the speaker.
The uses of words in past tense such as “have” or “came” suggest that the poem is not presently occurring in time, but is playing back in the speaker’s memory. The “city” often spoken of, is a vehicle expressing life, and the city lanes are all the turmoil and emotional boundaries consistent with the living process. The dark damp city that is described in the poem, is not the actual setting, but relate to the speaker’s frame of mind, the way the speaker was feeling during the time of mourning and the way the speaker presently feels. The speaker gives no reason to assume that there is another person
present or being spoken to, therefore deducing that the poem is occurring in the speaker’s mind.
The use of the word “night” or as the title suggests being “acquainted” with it, metaphorically relates to death and dying, night is a generally associated with coldness, solitude and darkness, all of which can be related or “acquainted” with death. By “walking out in rain and back in rain,” the speaker suggests that the “rain” never stopped, that the lament has yet to diminish, and it seems to find the speaker everywhere, even when “outwalk[ing] the furthest city light.”
In the second tercet the speaker feels that they have seen the “saddest city lane,” suggesting there is nothing worse or sadder. In seeing the “saddest city lane” the speaker has failed to express this deep remorse, yet instead decides to drop their “eyes unwilling to explain” the presence of the “lane,” perhaps to the people who care the most, more specifically the “watchman.” The “watchman” can be considered a vehicle for the expression of someone who cares and someone who wants to help the speaker extend beyond these grievances, yet “unwilling” is the speaker to disclose these emotions of guilt and sorrow.
After the “unwilling[ness] to explain,” the repetition ceases following this line in the third and final tercet , “I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet.” The stillness and the silence of “stopping the sound” relates to the lament felt by the speaker, as if the whole world and its movements are at a standstill. Nothing for the speaker can be heard, except for “an interrupted cry/…from another street,” this “cry” being the only sound
audible, is a haunting image, one that portrays an inability to reach the “cry,” a “cry” that had been “interrupted” or cut short before its years. The “cry” being heard has been one that has plagued the speaker for some time now, plagued by the helplessness of not reaching to the “cry.”
In the fourth and final stanza (quatrain) the speaker continues recollecting the “cry,” as one that did not “call [them] back or say good bye;.” The presence of this line implies not only grief, but guilt and helplessness on the part of the speaker for failing to part on good terms. It is in this stanza that the external and internal form of the poem break down, the repetition stops completely and instead of a fourth tercet there is a quatrain. The break down in order and rhythm, portrays the confusion associated with the grieving process of the speaker. In the same way, the middle of the final stanza “And further still at an unearthly height/ One luminary clock against the sky/ Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right,” can lead to confusion among its many possible interpretations.
The “unearthly…/ luminary clock” can mean a number of things, for example, the moon, God, or even the spirit of the one lost. Similarly, there may be confusion among the proclamation of the time being “neither wrong nor right,” which could refer to the guilt of the speaker and the inability to reach the “cry” as the time was “neither wrong nor right” to reach out. On the other hand the time could be “neither wrong nor right” for the interruption of the “cry,” or rather for the death of the one the speaker loved.
The confusion is felt by the speaker and in return admits to being “acquainted” with the sorrow, guilt and helplessness of losing a loved one, as well as admitting that they have yet to recover from the loss by stating the first line once again, as the final line “I have been one acquainted with the night.”
The poem is an immense metaphor of sorrow, guilt and helplessness related to a loved one’s death, and becomes inevitably dark and painful, with the use of tone, form, voice, language and setting. In particular the internal form of language incorporated with the voice and the external form (rhyme scheme, repetition), all giving rise to the slow sullen tone of lament. The setting of the dark damp streets becoming a vehicle for the feelings of deep sorrow, personal loss and the uneasing pull of depression as well as the lonely walks through the city (life), without ever being able to reach and mend the “cry…/ from another street.”
Barry, E. (1973). Robert Frost. New York:Continuum