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Analysis of Acquainted With The Night Essay


Essay: "Acquainted With the Night" by Robert Frost

Sometimes a poem can have an immediate hold on us although we're not sure why. Though it sounds contradictory, a powerful vagueness, like a heavy mist, engulfs us when we read or hear the words. This is the feeling I had the first time I read Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night." In fact, I was so captured by the poem that I memorized it. However, I never took the time to formally analyzed it to understand what makes it so powerful. So, I've decided to thoroughly immerse myself in it so I can learn why I'm drawn so strongly to it, as are many other people. "Acquainted With the Night" is one of Frost's most loved poems.

A good starting place when analyzing a poem is to search for literal meanings. The literal subject matter of this poem seems obvious and clear, at least on the surface. The following are some of the literal meanings that, for simplicity's sake, I've listed in the order they appear line-by-line. I use a masculine pronoun when referring to the speaker because it feels to me that the speaker is a man.

* The speaker takes long walks alone late at night.

* His walks have also been in the rain.

* He has walked to and beyond the edges of town, beyond the city lights.

* He has seen the sad parts of town; perhaps the poor, ghetto areas.

* He has passed a watchman, or a foot patrolman, during his walks.

* He has averted his eyes when passing the watchman, not wanting to explain something to him.

* He has stopped to listen when he's heard, in the distance, someone cry out.

* He can see an illuminated clock face high on a tower somewhere in the distance.

So, the poem literally is of a man talking about his walks late at night. As Laurence Perrine says, "This poem is not the account of one walk; it is the record of many walks" (50), or the composite of many walks at night. The tone and the lack of details tell us that there is a deeper meaning. If the poem were to be taken literally, there would be more details and explanations. Without them, the poem would hold little interest. Thus, the night here is used as a symbol.

The tone of the poem has a somber, sad quality and a strong element of fear. These qualities fit with the symbolic meaning of "night." Conventionally, night is a symbol used to suggest darkness of the mind or soul. So, on a deeper level, the speaker is saying that he is acquainted with an internal darkness of some kind.

The speaker does not give details of his own experiences and why he has been acquainted with darkness. However, the darkness in this poem evokes many images, such as sorrow, pain, loss, loneliness, alienation, death, grief, heartbreak, insanity, and terror. Any or all of these could be part of his internal darkness.

The appearance of the watchman, or patrolman, adds a sense of anxiety. Obviously then, there is an element of danger to walk the dark streets of this city. To know that the speaker is out walking late at night produces a chill and a shiver of fear. This image certainly suggests that these night walks are anything but peaceful and calming. This image, then, tells the reader that part of the speaker's experience is one of fear and anxiety. "Fear is an emotion which appears in different forms throughout Frost's work. He sees it as a dominant human feeling and one of the chief factors governing the universe" (Jennings, p 173).

The speaker says he has looked down the "saddest" city lane (line 4). To say "saddest" is to state the maximum. So, his experience goes beyond mere sadness. Looking down the saddest city lane gives a sense of looking directly into the dark depths of sadness. The "saddest" city lane, or the deepest depths of sadness, suggests a profound loss of some kind, perhaps the death of a child or a lover.Thus, his sadness has probably come from the pain experienced by death or heartbreak.

That the speaker has walked "out in rain" and "back in rain" (line 2) says he has probably endured long periods of darkness. Rain accentuates the dismal quality of the dark nights and deepens its meaning. The phrase "out in rain---and back in rain" suggests that he perhaps found it difficult to cope with or to find answers during his darkness. Coming "back in rain" also indicates that during his long walk, or searching, the situation probably did not change, nor did he find answers. "To read [Frost's] poems as they confront basic human troubles . . . can be unnerving---they offer neither security nor solace" (Howe).

Further evidence of this is seen in the comment, "And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain" (line 6). Is he unwilling to explain his fears or his sorrows? Because he has not mentioned his dark experiences, this comment seems to say that he is unwilling to explain them to the reader. Perhaps this is because he us unable to or that there are no answers.

"Outwalk[ing] the furthest city light" (line 3) seems also to express the depth of his darkness. To walk beyond the lights is to be beyond the perimeter of the city. It gives the feeling of being lost, or perhaps of being on the brink of insanity. Inherent in the image is also a suicidal element. Being out in the dark beyond the lights is to be outside of the rest of humanity. Such a feeling of alienation usually causes a person to question the continuation of his life.

Feelings of loneliness and alienation are very strong in this poem. The speaker takes walks alone at night---in the darkness. Being in the darkness alone gives the feeling of disconnectedness. So, it seems that he has been disconnected from humanity at some time in his life, which is suggested in line 3, "outwalked the furthest city light." This adds to the idea of a suicidal tendency. Living in a city, especially a large city, can in itself be alienating. The paradox of living in a city is that the larger the city---the more people there are---the more alienated the individual becomes from others. Symbolically, walking the city streets alone at night makes him appear estranged from others.

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