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.
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