Literature Study GuidesThe Poems Of Robert FrostAcquainted With The Night Summary

The Poems of Robert Frost | Study Guide

Robert Frost

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The Poems of Robert Frost | Acquainted with the Night | Summary

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Summary

A solitary wanderer describes his walks out into the night. He walks in the rain and beyond the city lights, and he walks down sad city streets. He must feel guilty or embarrassed by his wandering because "I have passed by the watchman on his beat / And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain." The walker has also heard a cry in the night that caused him to pause. The cry, however, wasn't intended to call him back. Also, he has watched the moon, which "Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right."

Analysis

"Acquainted with the Night" appeared in West-Running Brook (1928). The speaker, in his examples of the ways in which he is "acquainted with the night," reveals a good deal about his personal state. The first two stanzas describe his solitary ways. In the first stanza, he acknowledges that he has walked out and back in rain and has gone beyond the city limits. He seems an aimless wanderer or someone so preoccupied with himself that walking has become a means of thinking. It leaves him only remotely concerned with the world around him, especially the world of people.

The second stanza finds him looking "down the saddest city lane." Readers swiftly see the hyperbole here. No one could possibly recognize the "saddest" lane without seeing every lane in existence. Someone could, however, feel sufficiently down—the word appears in the line—to project his or her feelings onto a street in a poor neighborhood. In line 6, looking down to avoid a watchman's glance would seem to be a guilty gesture even if there is nothing in the moment to feel guilty or paranoid about.

Stanza 3 represents a shift in attention. Line 7 is the tipoff. The speaker is walking in the night and hears footsteps. Stopping to confirm they are his own suggests that he fears he is being followed. A cry in the dark beckons, almost as though the speaker would welcome an interruption. Alas, stanza 4 confirms his solitude. No one is looking for him. He has seen his lack of attachment reflected in the detachment of the full moon (the "luminary clock") overhead.

The restatement of the opening line as the second line in the concluding couplet affirms the connection between a cold universe and the experience of one who is acquainted with the night. The personal progressive verb tense—"I have been acquainted"—suggests that the speaker's condition is permanent. It was true in the past, is in the present, and likely will be in the future. The mood is emptier than mere dejection.

"Acquainted with the Night" is in terza rima, a form credited to 13th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri. To many, Dante is one of the greatest writers of all eras. In terza rima, the stanzas consist of tercets, groups of three lines of iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is formulaic: the second word in each stanza provides the rhyme for the stanza to follow. The rhyme scheme is ABA BCB CDC DED with a closing, rhyming couplet EE. This "enchained" rhyme scheme produces a tightly integrated work.

The choice of this form for "Acquainted with the Night" is interesting because Frost spoke and wrote so vehemently about the crucial tension between form and content as the agent of a poem's meaning. In this case, the form in its symmetry and predictability would seem to be the perfect and essential background for a poem about a life on existential hold. That is, rather than a tension between form and content, the two are closely matched. It is almost as though the existential state and the symmetry of form are superimposed, one on top of the other. To be acquainted with the night would be to walk in darkness and despair regardless of the weather or the boundaries of town and country.

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