The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” is a sonnet written in terza rima, a rhyme scheme that generally suggests a continual progression. The poem examines the poet’s relationship with himself and with society. Consisting of seven complete sentences, each beginning with the words “I have,” the poem relates Frost’s journey from the “furthest city light” into the dark night.
The first stanza introduces the poet’s relationship with the night as an acquaintance. The idea that the poet is “one acquainted with the night” acts as the glue holding the poem together. Indeed, the first and last lines are identical, emphasizing the poet’s assertion that he is acquainted with the night, and between these lines Frost clarifies the nature of the relationship. The first stanza also implies that his acquaintance with the night is a journey. He has both “walked out in rain—and back in rain” and has “outwalked the furthest city light.” His journey into the night and into the rain is also, for the poet, a journey to self-knowledge.
In the second stanza, the poet looks out at society—“down the saddest city lane”—as he leaves the confines of the city and, thus, society. Because he covets the time alone that he will have outside the city, he passes “the watchman on his beat,” but he makes no eye contact with the watchman, nor does he desire any contact with him. The need for solitude is so strong that he wants...
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Frost uses symbolism and imagery to set a mood of not just isolation and loneliness but also quiet and solitude. Themes such as rain, night, unearthly height, and sad city lanes evoke these feelings of both isolation and quietness. Yet, as Frost represents these images, they also seem to promote a feeling of reflection in his escape from the city to the quiet darkness of the surrounding countryside.
The “luminary clock” is symbolic of time, either natural or as constructed by humanity. This clock, which the poet sees at “an unearthly height,” can be interpreted as either the moon or a clock in a tower situated high above the city. Yet whether the clock is natural or human-made, it has much to say to the poet as he observes it from the dark outskirts of town. When he says that the clock “proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right,” he is given pause to consider his life and all its questions and possibilities. Characterizing the time as not right but also not wrong suggests a certain relativity or ambiguity concerning time and life.
Frost also uses the journey motif in this poem. When he speaks of going into the rain and coming back again, he suggests that he is on a journey, one that is not yet complete. In this poem, the night represents his destination—the poet’s own inner life, possibly self-knowledge. The poet, then, feels at least partially alienated from himself in much the same way that the night promotes a feeling...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
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Burnshaw, Stanley. Robert Frost Himself. New York: George Braziller, 1986.
Faggen, Robert. Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Galbraith, Astrid. New England as Poetic Landscape: Henry David Thoreau and Robert Frost. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.
Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982.
Lathem, Edward Connery. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981.
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Poirier, Richard. Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
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Thompson, Lawrance Roger, and R. H. Winnick. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982.