Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Images of darkness inhabit every corner of “Eyes of Night-Time.” The poet has studied night, and nighttime is this poem’s territory. The earth’s night and the human spirit’s darkness, metaphorical counterparts in the poem, are fertile places the poet considers with full respect. The soul’s darkest, most threatening realizations, she knows, will reveal the light (self-knowledge) that is needed to free the “prisoners in the forestin the almost total dark.”

Rukeyser’s poem offers her ecstatic awareness of the healing power of darkness: If one goes deeply enough into one’s own darkness, one finds, paradoxically, the light of truth that heals dark sufferings and misgivings. This light is the “glitter” she recognizes in the last line as “gifts” given, really, by all those people who have gone before her and all those who are alive now.

The poem is about examining oneself and one’s spirit. It is also a statement on the need for human unity. “And in our bodies the eyes of the dead and the living” is a powerful way of saying that human beings inhabit not only the earth, but also one another. Like the creatures of nighttime—the cat, moth, fly, beetle, and toad—humans are interdependent and must rely on one another to survive.