Course Hero. "Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Apr. 2018. Web. 8 Aug. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/>.
Course Hero. (2018, April 13). Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 8, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide." April 13, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/.
Course Hero, "Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide," April 13, 2018, accessed August 8, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/.
Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "Wild nights—Wild nights!"
The lines in this three-stanza poem are shorter than typical lines of ballad meter or of Dickinson's other poems. Typically Dickinson alternates lines of eight syllables and six syllables—or four feet and then three feet of iambic meter. But these lines contain only four or five syllables throughout the poem, and if every two lines of this poem were combined the poem would be much more like the bulk of her poetry in terms of structure: roughly six lines of ballad meter.
The speaker tells an absent love that if she were with him, they would enjoy passionate, or "wild nights," together. The second stanza introduces the extended metaphor of a storm at sea, for which a compass and map are useless. Love—her heart—lies outside the storm, in a safe port, and the speaker longs to moor there for the night with her lover. To do so would be paradise.
Some critics believe this is a poem of desire addressed by Dickinson to a figure known as "Master," the object of unrequited love, to whom she wrote three letters between 1858 and 1862. Its passion clearly indicates it is addressed to the object of the speaker's desire.
The sailing conceit, or extended metaphor, introduced in the second stanza involves a comparison between the speaker and a ship navigating the ocean. She calls the winds "Futile ... / To a Heart in port." That is, a heart that has already journeyed and reached the "port" of its love would be "Done with the Compass— / Done with the Chart!" In the third stanza the speaker wishes she might "but moor—Tonight— / In Thee!" Mooring, away from the raging storm, would keep the heart safe, protected from the elements, and she would be rowing in "Eden," or paradise. The language in this stanza is explicit and underscores the physical rather than the idealized or intellectual. That the speaker says "In Thee" (in capital letters) rather than "With Thee" or something more general to imply companionship indicates physical desire. This poem reflects even more of Dickinson's idiosyncratic use of dashes than is usual for her. Perhaps they reflect the intensity of emotion in the poem.
The shorter line length of this poem helps emphasize the emotion of the words, highlighting the repetition of "Wild nights" and the anaphora, or repeated beginnings, of lines 7 and 8. The first line, standing alone—"Wild nights—Wild nights!"—shouts for attention. Four subsequent lines end in exclamation points, indicating significant emotion. Clearly this is one of Dickinson's most explicitly sexual poems.