Acquainted With the Night
Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost: Poem Interpretation
Interpretation of “Acquainted with the Night”
“Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost is a melancholy poem depicting a lonely ritual. The poet tells of journeying into the night away from the city. He describes the sights and sounds heard on this nightly venture and implies how it makes one feel. The person in the poem has experienced all these different scenarios upon this journey and now reflects with acceptance. Humans need solitary time to experience their surroundings, to take a step back from society and just listen to the glorious quiet of the night.
Not many people can proclaim they “have been one acquainted with the night” (Frost 1). To have observed, witnessed, or stayed awake and reflected on their day in the quiet, dark, still of a night. That is scary for a lot of people; to spend time in your mind. Even the poet says “I have passed by the watchman on his beat/And dropped my eyes/unwilling to explain” (5-6). Like a pilgrimage, this is a journey intended for one’s own purpose. No need to explain why the person is doing what they are doing, yet we sense from them dropping their eyes that it is almost shameful. A very natural reaction for someone who is spending their time in the dark. If that is what you are doing, then, of course, you do not wish to be around anyone.
The need for solitary reflections in a natural surrounding is important to the human condition. Frost describes all these things that have been either witnessed or heard upon these nightly ventures. To “have walked out in rain-and back in rain” (2) that most people would prefer to stay inside. To “have outwalked the furthest city light” (3); to go beyond your comfort zone. Things that would be scary to most people are necessary for reflection in this poem. The line “I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet” (7) is easy to imagine. The actual act of stopping the only noise in the night (the sound of your feet) and just listening in the black, still air. What can you hear? What will you experience? The uncertain scares people.
What is heard in the night is accepted as normal occurrences of life. “When far away an interrupted cry/Came over houses from another street/But not to call me back or say good-by” (8-10). They have stopped the sound of his feet right as this “cry” came out of the night. Remaining observant of this sound, but does not let it falter them. It is not of concern, it is not for him. The sounds is not taken as a sign to return from his walk, but as an instance of human nature or a normal occurrence; the cry does “not call me back or say good-by” (10). He is accepting of what happens when one is acquainted with the night as people should be accepting of situations that occur in their own lives.
There is always time for reflection. There is always time to experience an inner journey while taking a physical one. For “further still at an unearthly height/One luminary clock against the sky/Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right” (11-13) depicts a sense of assurance. This event is normal and necessary to be able to reflect. He has taken a cue from nature as reassurance that, yes, this is what I should be doing at this exact moment. That wherever he is, is wherever he needs to be; that moment of true inner peace. Frost even repeats his first line at the end “I have been one acquainted with the night” (14) for emphasis of this experience.
A basic part of the human condition is a period of reflection. For Frost, this meant a journey into the night. Something that seems so lonely and melancholy with a twist of inner peace by the end. Everything he has experienced on this walk has only made him feel reassured in that last moment. There was never a wrong time or place to have a journey of self-reflection.
Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost: Literary Analysis
There are numerous ways to achieve an understanding of a poem. One of these methods is to close read in order to obtain a well-supported interpretation. By possessing the ability to analyze and close read a poem, we will be able to decipher some of its latent meanings; therefore, obtain a better understanding along with an appreciation for the poem. Upon investigation of the text, we will be able to locate and assign meaning to themes, discuss the use of figures of speech, and expose symbolism in three separate poems by Robert Frost. We will also seek to understand how the use of close reading and paying close attention to the text will produce a better supported claim or idea.
In the poem “Acquainted with the night”, Robert Frost writes about a character who has become familiarized with the night and describes his experiences while walking in the rain. Frost writes this poem in a metric form which rhymes and ends with a rhymed couplet in the closing stanza. The purpose of this style of poetry is to highlight the significance of that last line. Also, we can speculate that the reason the poem is written with a closing couplet is because the couplet serves as closure. The poem itself contains an extremely depressing tone that dominates the poem and gives the reader the immediate impression that the meaning is grim. Upon reading and examining the poem, we can see that there is a general sad atmosphere. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to be uncovered. In the poem, we see the speaker pass by a watchman on the street and then the speaker “dropped [his] eyes, unwilling to explain” (Meyer 665). This desire to avoid any human contact is made made clear by the phrase “unwilling to explain”. This can also tell us that the speaker is avoiding any type of human contact on his walk and is exhibiting antisocial-like behavior. We can notice that this example of apathy is the speaker’s way of telling us that he prefers to be alone and unbothered by other human beings. We can understand that he is appreciative of the night, but is not content with the rest of the world because he is evasive of everyone else. From this textual support we can deduce that a theme for this poem is reclusiveness.
If we focus our attention on searching for figures of speech, we can understand the literal meaning; this will lead us to the connotative meaning. In this poem, the use of the past perfect conjugation hints that his walking in the night happened numerous times. If we continue with the idea that this occurrence happened often, we can label this constant walking as a metaphor for continuation or possibly insistency. If we look at the choice of words, we notice that the majority of the descriptive words used are rather melancholic and despite all these terrible things, he still continues to walk. At no point in the poem does the speaker turn around or go home; rather, he continues on his walk of solitude. This tells us that the speaker endures all this depression almost voluntarily. We know this because he does not stop on his walk. This persistency may represent the ability to persist through a certain type of depression or mental illness. Moreover, the persistency that the speaker exhibits may be symbolic to the ability to continue living with a certain sense of detachment.
While close reading in order to find traces of symbolism, we can make an interpretation that the darkness is symbolic of the speaker’s depression. We can see that the speaker “has outwalked the furthest city light”(Meyer 665) which can tell us that the speaker is surrounded by darkness, much like how depression and loneliness surrounds an individual. We note how the speaker feels comfortable at night and being surrounded by the darkness. The speaker feels as if the darkness is a protective shield against the outside world. We can say this because he continues to walk despite the rain. The night and darkness allows him to be out and he feels almost safe in the night. This accepting of the darkness is symbolic to the speaker’s depression.
Many of the same concepts we mentioned can be applied to “The Road Not Taken”. In this poem we see the speaker is forced to decide between two equally travelled paths. As he chooses one path, he exclaims that he will retell his story in a manner that explains that he had chosen the path less traveled. Within the first stanza of the poem we see that the speaker is “sorry [he] could not travel both [paths]” (Meyer 840). This tells us that he made a conscious decision to follow one path over the other. The decision of taking one path over another can represent the choices and decisions we make in life. While we read this poem, we can deduce that this obligation to chose one path over the other can represent the theme of decisions. A majority of the poem is centered around the ability to make choices, or in this case, chose a path. This theme of choices is represented by the fork in this road in this poem.
We can also notice the use of vivid and detailed descriptions of the two roads. This use of imagery helps us better understand the poem by providing scenic information to interpret. For example, the speaker states that the grass “had worn them down about the same” (Frost 840). This tells us that there is no obvious better path. The fact that these two paths are very similar ties back into our theme of the difficulty of making immediate choices. We have mentioned earlier that the fork in the road marks the two paths that the speaker can take. If we look at the end of the first stanza the speaker says that he can only see down the paths for a certain distance.
This inability to see the path in front of him may be symbolic of the inability to see the consequences of choice. This inability to see forward makes him almost fearful of his choice to take a certain path. In the poem, the speaker states that we will always wonder what would have happened if we took a different path. We notice that the poem mentions the two paths and how the speaker regrets his own choice. This uncertainty may represent a desire to know what would have happened if he had taken the other path. We can say that the roads themselves are symbolic of the actual choices we make because we can regret the path we have taken in a similar manner that we regret life choices.
In the very short poem “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost, it becomes more challenging to interpret the meaning because the poem only contains nine lines. In this poem we see the speaker speculating on how the world will end. He/she discuses that there are two possibilities: destruction by ice or destruction by fire. It is important to understand that poem is about the destructive force of emotions; however, we can note that the speaker talks about these emotions with little bias or personal predisposition. This unbiased explanation of these two destructive forces makes it clear that these two forces are equally dangerous. For example, in the line where he hypothetically states that “if [he] had to perish twice, I think I know enough hate to say that for the destruction of ice is also great” (Meyer 852). This shows us that the speaker also acknowledges the power of hate is equal to the power of desire. This ability to discuss these two theories to the end of world with no prejudice from the speaker makes us clearly see the points made in poem. The poem by itself is a metaphor for the devastating power that emotions can yield. We can state that the destructive force of human emotions is the theme because the “hate” and “desire” in the poem represent powerful and often dangerous sentiments.
While analyzing for figures of speech, we notice a small amount of alliteration within the poem. In the fourth line of the poem reads: “I hold with those who favor fire” (Meyer 852). We notice a repetitive “h” sound in the words “hold” and “who” along with a “f” sound in the words “favor” and “fire”. The usage of these particular phonemes, /h/ and /f/, makes us focus our attention to that certain line in the poem. That fifth line in the poem is significant because that line shows us that the speaker has had some personal experience with hate; therefore, we can infer that there is some sort of credibility to what he is saying.
The title itself may give us a certain clue of what the symbolism is in this poem. In the poem, the speaker talks about how he believes that fire or ice will mostly be the cause of the end of the world. Moreover, the speaker then compares fire to desire and then ice to hate, which leads us to believe that fire and ice are symbolic to human emotions and behaviors. Human emotions and desires play a significant role in human manufactured destructive forces. Every war, every conflict, or any verbal argument has been fueled by human emotions. Both fire and ice are highly destructive and both powerful. We can link human behaviors and emotions to fire and ice; hate and desire.
When we read poetry, it is imperative that we think in an analytical manner. By close reading three poems by Robert Frost, we were able to achieve a deeper understanding by investigating themes, figures of speech, and symbolism. While we dwell within the text, we realize that understanding these aspects of poetry will lead us to achieve a better understanding of the poem. Upon gaining a deeper comprehension of these poems, we obtain a stronger connection to the text and we also develop an appreciation for the poem’s cleverness. Close reading has given us the ability to better understand poetry along with the ability to value it. (#1724)
One of the things that I had noticed about myself while editing this paper was that I had a bit of trouble trying to articulate what I meant to write on paper. For example, in the second paragraph I had mentioned that the style of the poem was organized in various stanzas and ended with a rhyming couplet. When I was drafting my essay, it seemed obvious to me why that was important. After writing numerous papers, I had developed my writings skill enough to know that everything I write must be relevant to my point and explained to avoid any form of ambiguity. Therefore, I corrected numerous things in my second paragraph to help bring clarity to my paper.
When I first began to write the first draft of this essay, I found it difficult to write what I wanted to write regarding the tone of the poem. Originally, I had stated the poem had very little emotion, which was not my intent. I eventually was able to explain that the speaker portrayed both emotions with little personal biased to each emotion. I was able to explain that this unbiased portrayal of both emotions highlighted the severity of each emotion. I noticed that a common theme in my papers was the inability to elaborate on my thoughts. I had edited the places where the elaborations needed to be made and I feel like the paper flows in a more efficient manner.
Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost: The Concept of Loneliness in the Poem
Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with The Night” is a dreary poem about loneliness. Frost paints a depressing picture of walking alone in the darkest night, using language to create a feeling of desolation and solitude in addition to his deliberate use of the terza rima rhyme scheme to conjure a feeling of a lack of forward progression. In his poem “Acquainted with the Night”, Robert Frost uses rhyme scheme and meter as well as language to express loneliness and a feeling of going in circles.
From the very beginning of the poem, Frost evokes a feeling of loneliness with his use of the word “acquainted.” Acquaintance suggests a distant relationship, as opposed to a close one, thereby emphasizing seclusion. When describing themselves as night owls, many people look upon the night with love and admiration, as opposed to distancing themselves from the night by referring to it as an acquaintance. Furthermore, one interpretation of the poem is that Frost refers to the moon as a “luminary clock against the sky.” For some, the moon can decrease a sense of loneliness — the notion that everyone looks at the same moon no matter where they are in the world is comforting to many. However, Frost uses the moon to further emphasize loneliness. He describes the moon as being at an “unearthly height” and as a “luminary clock,” making the moon feel like a foreign and out of reach object that he uses only for timekeeping. Additionally, Frost may have chosen the moon as a symbol for its tendency to orbit in circles. In fact, the poem has a feeling of repetition and moving through time without advancement. The sentence “I have walked out in rain — and back in rain” creates a sense that the narrator isn’t moving forward, he simply walks to some sort of destination and then back to where he started. Frost further shows this with his use of repetition. He uses “I have” at the beginning of each of his sentences throughout the poem, and his last sentence is the same as the first. This creates a sense of moving in circles, which emphasizes a feeling of not being able to progress or move forward.
Furthermore, Frost uses iambic pentameter throughout his poem, which creates a rhythm not unlike that of walking. This helps to bring the content of the poem a little bit more into reality — the rhythm helps the reader imagine the speed and pace of the narrator that much better. Additionally, being able to hear the rhythm of the footsteps when reading this poem helps to reiterate the feelings of loneliness. The only time one can really hear their own footsteps is when they are walking alone, with nothing to listen to but their own thoughts and the sounds of their feet. Additionally, Frost uses the terza rima rhyme scheme to maintain a feeling of repetition. Terza rima is an Italian rhyme scheme that in each stanza uses a rhyme from the previous stanza and one new rhyme. This helps to maintain the feeling of moving in circles that the poem already illustrates. To further manifest this, Frost uses the same rhymes from the beginning of the poem at the end of the poem, bringing it full circle and invoking a feeling of not being able to move forward or progress.
“Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost illustrates a character walking alone in the night for an extended period of time — an activity, it seems, that they have done many times before. In addition to his deliberate use of language, Frost uses iambic pentameter and a terza rima rhyme scheme to create a sense of loneliness and a feeling of moving through time without clear purpose or cause.
The Themes of Darkness in the Poems We Grow Accustomed to the Dark by Emily Dickinson and Acquainted With the Night by Robert Frost
The poems “We grow accustomed to the Dark” by Emily Dickinson and “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost are both distinctly about darkness. Both authors relate the darkness to real life emotions such as sadness and depression, but the way they both describe it as is different than one another. That can be told by the titles of the poems. Accustomed is a word that describes a thing that usually happens while acquainted means the knowing of, but not completely familiar with. So basically one poem says darkness is a common thing to happen while the other poem says it happens, but not too often. The way darkness is used within these poems makes the reader thinks about literal darkness or night. When you look deeper into the poem, that is not what is being discussed. The darkness represents sadness or a tough time in life. The poems both say that darkness and sadness happen to everyone because nobody’s life is perfect. Everybody goes through hard times no matter what and you have to learn to cope with them with given circumstances.
The poem “We grow accustomed to the Dark” is more of a darker poem than the other one. It says that there is always darkness happening everywhere but humans just grow accustomed to it throughout life and that it is not noticed completely. It is mostly noticed when a major negative event happens such as a family death which is kind of selfish if humans only worry about their own self happiness and not anyone else’s. This poem had dashes in many locations throughout the entire poem. The dashes make the reader pause in their head for a second and then continue on. They would cause a dramatic effect that the second poem lacked. This poem was written in first person plural. Every time the word “we” is said, the reader is included as well as anyone else too. The strongest line within this poem is “And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead-”. This line is powerful because it is saying that darkness/sadness can come out of nowhere and hit us right in the face without warning. It is a good analogy to use because walking in the dark could result in walking into objects that cause pain which in this case is the branch of a tree.
The second poem “Acquainted with the Night” is brighter than the first one. There are no dashes within to cause dramatic effect like the first one and is not written in first person plural. This poem is written in first person singular which takes a more personal approach. The poem would only be about the reader as they are saying “I” over and over again. This poem uses parallelism in it to make connections with items. The big theme within this poem is that sadness isn’t a big deal to some people’s lives. They experience the sadness, but it is just known of instead of being familiar with. That is why they are an acquaintance with the dark; it occurs, but very rarely. An important literary device that is used within this poem and not the first poem is a book ending. A book ending is when the first line and the last line of the poem are the same exact thing. This is because the author wants the reader to see and notice it, and to think about it more on a deeper level. The line is, “I have been one acquainted with the night.” This line is important because it is saying that night (darkness/sadness) is an acquaintance. This poem isn’t saying that sadness will come out of nowhere but that it will happen not as often. Sadness might happen a lot in one person’s life, but this poem is saying that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things will eventually get better and it won’t be sadness forever.
These two poems, written by two very different authors are both extremely similar and different at the same time. They are both the same because they are both poems about darkness and sadness. However, they both use different literary techniques such as eye rhyme and book ending to get their point across. They both say that sadness will be part of every human’s life but that it will go away eventually. These two poems are both well-crafted works of literature that properly display darkness and sadness.
Review of Robert Frost’s Poem, Acquainted with the Night
Robert Frost was one of the greatest and most famous poets in American history. One of his most well known poems is Acquainted With the Night. Acquainted With the Night is a somewhat sad poem, but all of its 14 lines have deep meaning and follow a complex rhyme scheme. The poem is supposedly about Jack Frost’s life. He is a man who cannot absorb any emotion or feeling. The poem describes how this man wanders without any reason or purpose.
Acquainted with the Night has a very distinctive and difficult rhyme scheme. It was originally used in Italian poems, but is harder to use in American poems. The rhyme scheme is (ABABCBCDCDADAA). This shows how Frost was as a poet. The poem is only 14 lines in total, but every line is placed in the perfect place. The poem itself has 10 syllables in each line, 8 of the lines begin with “I”and there are rhyming words like: acquainted, passed, proclaimed, looked, drooped and interrupted. The reason he repeated “I” so many times was he was talking about himself.
In the first stanza, his helpless and glum mood is made clear. In line three, the man “Outwalks the furthest city light”. The light symbolizes happiness and he has left the happiness in his life. This shows that Acquainted With the Night is about a man who walks around a city, wandering around pointlessly. The character seems to be saddened by his surroundings and he doesn’t look at his surroundings. This could possibly mean he is a spectator and cannot interact with the objects around him. Since this poem is based on Frost’s life the poem seems to be a metaphor for a depressing part of his life. The poem doesn’t say anything about him being depressed, but it shows it.
Frost is very descripative and paints, clear imagery for the reader in Acquainted With the Night. Imagery is what the writer is trying to show the reader and not tell them with something they can imagine. An example of imagery is when he talks about the city lights, the moon, “walking there and back in the rain” and of course the night. Another line showing imagery is line twelve which describes the moon in the night; “One luminary clock against the sky”. All of these cases of imagery show his depressed state of being. In the second to last line it says, “Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right”. This line is telling the reader that the wanderer is so engulfed with sadness and is in a depressed state that he has lost track of time. The night symbolizes unhappiness and sadness, this symbolism is supported by the bleak and dark imagery.
Acquainted with the Night is a complex poem and it may seem short, but although it only has 14 lines. All 14 lines have thought-out meanings and it may need some rereading to completely understand it. The obscure rhyme pattern sets this poem aside from others. This poem tells the reader, that he is acquainted with sadness and loneliness. Frost’s trophy of a poem is one to be remembered.
The Archetypal Element of Darkness in We Grow Accustomed to the Dark by Emily Dickinson and Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost
The archetypal element of darkness, in stark contrast with light, is a critical part of any writer’s toolbox. Besides its obvious ability to alter the atmosphere of any given piece, darkness can also be used symbolically to achieve a specificpurpose in writing. Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, two American masters of poetry, are known for their use of the archetypal element of darkness, particularly in Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the Dark” and Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night;” these pieces use darkness to signify intellectual and social isolation, respectively. Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the Dark” and Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” differonly in how the darkness is isolating; specifically, how the narrator feels the darkness separates him or her from the rest of society. Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the Dark” isolates the narrator with darkness that signifies the brevity and meaninglessness of life, while Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” isolates the narrator with darkness that signifies time.
One of the principal means that Dickinson and Frost use to signify darkness is structure; in the case of Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the Dark,” this structure is not apparent at first. “We grow accustomed to the Dark” has a pattern to it, but it is not rhyme scheme. Each stanza contains the idea that one must embrace the darkness (the idea that life is brief and meaningless) in order to avoid that naivety that one typically imbibes in. However, each stanza ends in a pessimistic conclusion that indicates the acknowledgement of life’s true meaning. Take stanza four for example:
The Bravest- grope a little-
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead
But as they learn to see-
Here Dickinson regards the “Bravest” as naïve and child-like, running into obstacles as they attempt to navigate the darkness. This stanza ends with the conclusion that these so-called “Bravest” must learn to see the true meaning of the darkness, that life is brief and meaningless, in order to successfully navigate the world around them. This structure is found in each stanza of Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the dark.”
Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night,” on the other hand, uses traditional rhyme scheme to signify darkness as time. Frost makes use of a rather sophisticated rhyme scheme called “terzarima,” or third rhyme, which is often considered difficult to create in English literature. In Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night,” the third rhyme scheme looks something like this: ABA BCB DCD DAD AA. There is a definite meter and flow between stanzas within “Acquainted with the Night” thanks to line two of each stanza rhyming with the first line of the next, and this effect created keeps Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” moving along at a relatively steady pace. The drum-like pace of this piece is where Frost represents time. “Acquainted with the Night” is ever moving at the same pace, never quickening, never slowing; simply marching on.
Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the Night” and Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” have significantly different structures; however, their use of imagery remains consistent with one another throughout each piece. That is, both pieces use imagery in the same way: to expound upon the specific way each author uses darkness. Dickinson uses imagery to make “We grow accustomed to the Night” more disorientating, which helps to contribute to the idea of naivety which is present throughout the piece. Take stanza two for example of “We grow accustomed to the Dark.”
A Moment- We uncertain step
For newness of the night-
Then- fit our vision to the Dark
And meet the Road- erect-
This sentence is relatable to the reader, whom has surely experienced the natural phenomenon of the human eye adjusting to darkness; the reader understands how disorientating those first few steps are before this has occurred, and this contributes the disorientating effect of the imagery in this stanza. This disorientation is not at all unlike a child first learning to walk, or in the case of “We grow accustomed to the Night,” a person understanding what Dickinson believes to be the true meaning of life.
Frost also uses strong imagery and key words to draw the reader nearer to the concept of time. Frost indicates the passage of time in “Acquainted with the Night” through his description of his decrepit surroundings:
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat.
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
The details within this stanza all draw the same conclusion; that time marches on, and its effects are inevitable. For example, the narrator has “looked down the saddest city lane,” a lane that has been ravaged by time and left in its poor condition; the narrator has also “passed by the watchman on his beat,” a beat that happens at the same time on the same nights for years. During the final two stanzas of Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night,” the narrator references “One luminary clock against the sky.” This “luminary clock,” which is of course the moon, is a clock that arrives every night at the same time, and departs every night at the same time, therefore drawing the reader to the concept of time.
Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the Night” and Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” are two exceptional pieces of literature that focus upon the concept of isolation, both intellectual and social. While Dickinson employed a free-verse structure with “hidden” order to signify darkness as the brevity and meaninglessness of life, Frost used third rhyme to emphasize darkness as isolation in time; both authors used imagery to their own benefit. Dickinson and Frost both used subtleties in their respective pieces to represent darkness, and this shows an apparent level of mastery in the art of literature. Dickinson and Frost are truly American masters of poetry.
The Chaos of Modernity in The Maltese Falcon and Acquainted with the Night
Law and Order: Modernism
In the quest to diagnose the modern age with its particular ailment—is it apathy? Xenophobia? Cynicism? Class exploitation? Racism, sexism, some other -ism?—it’s been the task of modernist writers to explore the many afflictions skulking about the contemporary age, in the attempt to parse order from chaos. Or perhaps not. Perhaps the goal is not to achieve order, but to defy it, to weed out any remaining pockets of it and crush it before it reclaims the age and forces everything back into its rigid binaries. More than anything, the goals of modernist writers like Robert Frost and Dashiell Hammett seem to align with the subversion of the binaries that had caged previous generations of thought. The characters in Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon and the persona of Frost’s poem “Acquainted with the Night” are not pettily rebellious, but rather they illustrate how the chaos of modernity must be navigated by equally chaotic personalities—and how overstepping traditional boundaries may be neither wrong nor right, neither good nor bad, but necessary.
There is much to be said about how very necessary it is for Hammett’s protagonist, Sam Spade, to ignore the bounds established by traditional practices of law and order. In his attempt to navigate a series of destabilizing events in the already destabilized landscape of crime-saturated San Francisco, Spade is forced to adopt and enforce his own moral compass—one whose needle seeks truth and justice rather than ethics. Indeed, the moral code that binds his “colleagues” at the San Francisco Police Department ends up bogging them down; Spade’s subversion of morality and his adoption of amoral behavior allows him to continuously keep up with, and eventually thwart, the criminals he investigates. Throughout the novel, the indifferent third-person point of view grants readers only surface images of the goings-on; as such it is evident that Spade’s actions are consistently contrasted with those of the upstanding Lieutenant Dundy and Detective Sergeant Tom Polhaus.
The introduction of Polhaus could not be more different from the introduction of Spade: Spade, being the “blond satan,” is immediately characterized as a person of great effect—whether that effect is wholesome or devilish is ambiguous, but it stands that his image is striking and elicits a reaction (391). He is sitting, seemingly bored and collected, seemingly expectant, almost assuredly ready for action at his introduction. Polhaus, on the other hand, is introduced as a man who “clambered” to Spade’s side, a man with a “carelessly” shaved face, small eyes, jowls, and body covered by soil due to his messy (likely carelessly undertaken) task of investigating the body of Miles Archer (400). The effect is that of someone who is entirely ineffectual, and this is compounded by his seemingly inadequate presence as an informer to Spade, who fills in the blanks of Archer’s murder quite easily. Even after his introduction, Polhaus is only ever referred to by his name, not his title as a detective for the police department; as a direct contrast to Spade, Polhaus is easily dismissed as a significant figure, let alone as an officer of the law. His presence is that of the law—the boundary—that exists merely because tradition dictates it, merely because this false, obsolete relic of the past maintains the image of public safety. Polhaus exists to be overlooked and to be defied, as Spade consistently demonstrates. The benign, morally superior position of Polhaus’s version of police detective has served its purpose and, with the modern world’s influx of easy violence and social chaos, must now be displaced by a position of moral ambiguity and methodical pursuit of truth and justice rather than the surface maintenance of moral integrity.
Lieutenant Dundy presents an entirely different set of obstacles enforced by traditional standards of the law. Suspicious and churlish, Dundy is that stubborn rock of traditional value that refuses to budge and detests anything—cue Sam Spade—that might wriggle around it. As is the case with Spade and Polhaus, Dundy is described and immediately characterized in his introduction. His “compact” (i.e. sturdy and unyielding) body, too-neat attire, and meticulously maintained, “grizzled” hair announce the presence of one who takes himself quite seriously. He’s gone gray with age and experience, refuses to indulge Spade in his comradely offer of rum, and perceives all situations through “hard deliberate eyes” that leave no room for quibbling (403). (Not, of course, that Spade abides by this.) He also exudes the persistent threat of bodily force, lashing out at Spade after an extended session of “kidding around” (458). As the opposite of Polhaus, Dundy is too effective as an officer of the law. Dundy does not enforce law and order, he inflicts it on those who, like Spade, do not obey the rigid binary of upstanding citizen/dastardly criminal. Dundy represents law that perceives transgressive behavior as inherently criminal, regardless of its motives or its goals. Indeed, Polhaus’s “little playmate” “looks heartbroken” when he realizes that Spade’s ability to weave around laws and absurdly rigid moral codes ends up being the only truly effective route to apprehending Gutman and his crowd of criminals (584); the mocking addition of “little playmate” insists very clearly that the current state of the police department is little more than a group of bumbling children making play at cops and robbers, and insisting that life is just as easily boiled down to who is “good” and who is “bad.” As illustrated by Sam Spade, the real work is done only when the constraints of morality are blurred and subsequently overstepped. As it happens, it is neither the clambering Polhaus nor the uncompromising Dundy who snare the criminals and deliver justice—no, it is the morally ambiguous, blond satan himself who finagles his way out of Gutman’s plots by straddling the line between delinquent and virtuous. As befits the modern age, and the modernist pursuit of abrading traditional thought and behavior, the antics of Sam Spade demonstrate the need for transgressing boundaries to sift out truth, and to achieve some semblance of justice.
The unnamed persona of Frost’s villanelle/sonnet “Acquainted with the Night” reflects much of the same conflict inherent in the strict obedience of law, order, and tradition. While the persona illustrates quite clearly the external sources of conflict (people crying out in the night, unknown individuals following the persona, etc.) the bulk of this individual’s narrative insists that it is not just for personal safety and the pursuit of relatively noble endeavors (see Sam Spade) that he attempts to escape the city’s limits. More than anything else, the persona flirts with the boundaries of urban light and unknown darkness for personal satisfaction, for the pleasure of solitude and the pursuit of potentially illicit behavior.
The persona, who is “unwilling to explain” (6) his motives and purposes to the policeman he passes, seeks not only to abandon the dubious “safety” of the city lights and law enforcement, but also the scrutiny of law and other controlling elements of society. “The persona’s conception of the night is ambivalent,” Keat Murray observes in his analysis of Frost and “the modern mind.” “He views himself as somewhat detached from the night, yet at the same time lured toward it as a suitable place for his loneliness. His acquaintance…lacks a clear identification with the night but also urges him to explore it” (372). His acquaintance with the night alleviates the pressure of scrutiny, of constantly being accountable for his actions. Hence, the persona having “outwalked the furthest city light” (3) (not for the first time, the poem implies) is at last enveloped in the mysterious, the unknown, in which he may seek solace; yet he is equally at risk from having distanced himself from the lights, under which he might be forewarned of threats. It is this state of risk, this perpetual flirtation with light and dark, known and unknown threats and pleasures, that motivates the persona and maintains his acquaintance with the night. Murray further argues, “[T]he desire to fathom [the night] is transformed into an artistic attempt to create out of chaos” (372); creation—in this case the creation of a tenuous relationship with the night—is but another attempt at control, at reigning in chaos. As with Sam Spade, the constant usurpation of control allows for the persona’s broader conception of boundaries—and how they must necessarily be crossed.
Murray’s understanding of the persona’s “attempt to create out of chaos” is due in no small part to the structure of the poem itself. The swift deterioration from single-line declarative statements to observations that seem to ooze from one line (a perceivable boundary) to the next in an unpredictable pattern suggests a slip in that creative/controlling routine. Indeed, it implies a gradual relinquishment of control as the persona approaches the boundary between urban lights and mysterious darkness, a curiously appropriate sentiment for a sonnet. The form effuses flirtation and coyness, implying that the persona’s “acquaintance” with the night, and all its illicit potential, is perhaps a bit more intimate than the title suggests. The persona’s obvious past affiliations with the night suggest not a mere acquaintance, with all its ambivalence, but rather an affair kindled by the seduction of transgressive behavior.
The unknown, with its lack of structure and restraint, (as illustrated by the poem’s ebbing sense of structure) offers not only promises of illicit thrills, but of solace, of comfort. The night envelops transgressive individuals just as easily as it consumes those who define themselves in opposition to it. The transparent are at risk; the transgressive are welcome and, indeed, enticed. Murray continues, “[T]he persona moves beyond light and seeks revelation in the darkness rather than being repulsed by its density and ambiguity” (373). Like Sam Spade, the persona is not phased by the chaos of the unknown, but instead thrives on it, “seeks revelations” from it; indeed, both characters are themselves chaotic enough to observe and comprehend the unraveling of social order, and to employ equally chaotic manners and behaviors to establish temporary order. For, quite clearly, the fate of modernity rests not on the backs of the morally transparent, but on the individuals half hidden in shadows.
The Light of Darkness
The human experience demands pitfalls and darkness in order to grow and appreciate the light of life. Authors and poets control responsibility over recording these experiences that shape us and offering insight to the dark feeling that reside in all of us. Emily Dickinson saw darkness as a devouring force or a chance to learn in her poem “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark.” Robert Frost’s sonnet “Acquainted with the Night” explored walking through the darkness and accepting it as a part of life. Both Dickinson and Frost use imagery of a path to advise readers to face the dark, a message that comes across in different attitudes but ultimately teaches us that light will come eventually.
The symbolic image of a road used in both pieces allowed the poets to encourage facing the dark parts of life willingly. A road, in a broader sense, represents the path of life and how everyone has met the darkness in their journey on this path. Dickinson uses words filled with connotations of familiarity in lines 1and 3 including “accustomed,” and “Neighbor” throughout her poem as the reader walks along her on this path. This diction implies we know the darkness and Dickinson urges for us face this darkness, to “meet the road—erect,” in line 8. Similarly, Frost’s title implies this familiarity with the word “Acquainted,” as if he knows of the darkness but not as a close friend, there still remains a sense of discomfort. Frost’s sonnet acts as an extended metaphor of this path of life as he describes walking through a city, into the darkness, and back. The last couplet explains that “time was neither wrong nor right,” to convey that time to face darkness and move forward remains. Dickinson asserts that one can learn from the dark as well in the last stanza where “Life steps almost straight,” once we choose to face darkness. The two poems use the imagery of walking through the path of life as a vehicle to tell readers to face the darkness when it comes, that, like a neighbor or acquaintance, it can become bearable once known.
In conveying their message, Dickinson uses an interpersonal approach whereas Frost describes an experience in which the reader looks into from the outside. Dickinson achieved an interactive method with her relatable examples and her use of the plural first person “we” throughout the poem. She writes in line 13, “The Bravest—grope a little.” Capitalizing “Bravest” adds emphasis that signifies the people we idolize, in turn, saying that even they falter from the darkness. Her use of “we” allows her to directly tell the reader in the fourth stanza to “learn to see,” just as their role models, “The Bravest,” have. Contrastingly, Frost uses the singular first person “I” to describe the narrator’s journey through the darkness. This impersonal approach gives the sonnet a gloomier attitude compared to Dickinson’s hopeful tone that encourages learning from the darkness to move forward. Frost writes in line 10, “But not to call me back or say good bye,” to represent that the world keeps moving forward whether the individual does or not. This makes moving forward inevitable, unlike how Dickinson presents it as a choice. In the last couplet of Frost’s Shakespearian sonnet the reader sees the narrator accept this fact of inevitability. The difference in point of views reflect different attitudes through the poems as the reader either becomes a part of the journey and makes a choice or the reader watches from an outside perspective and sees the unavoidability of moving forward.
The dark ultimately helps readers resonate with both poems and acts as a motivator to learn and move forward. The image of night and darkness represents the pitfalls of humanity and the hard times all individuals face. The title of Frost’s poem “Acquainted with the Night” highlights how we can become familiar with the dark and take our time to deal with it. This repeated phrase emphasizes how, like an acquaintance, one knows the dark, the night comes every day. When he references the moon in line 12 as a “luminary clock against the sky,” it implies that light remains present, and, with time, day will come and shower one with light again. Dickinson emphasized learning from this darkness in line 17 and 18 as “either the Darkness alters—or something in the sight.” Like Frost this symbolizes that darkness will fade with time and a new light will replace it. Frost and Dickinson reference the darkness as hard times everyone goes through and how eventually the light will come to replace it.
Poets capture life to resonate with the human experience and give us a sense of comfort and motivation to move forward. By using the path of life to convey their message, although conveyed in different attitudes, both Dickinson and Frost revealed that light exists after the darkness. Thus, the audience takes away that they can learn and move forward along their own path without letting the darkness consume them. Dickinson and Frost provide a hope in moving forward through their insight on darkness.