The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Wild Nights—Wild Nights!” contains no narrative plot to report; there is no story to tell. The poem is sustained exclamation, an extended expression of agitated yearning for reunion with a lover. In the first stanza, a storm seems to be raging, the seas in ferment from the winds. Were the speaker with her lover, there would be stormy nights of their own making, born of passionate indulgence and privilege (“Our luxury”).

In the second stanza, the persona remarks that the winds cannot avail against “a Heart in port”—that is, a lover can transcend life’s buffetings, given the stability provided by love. As a parallel to this thought, no longer does a lover require compass or chart on troubled seas, since in finding love, the voyage is done, the “port” reached.

In the third stanza, where Emily Dickinson typically employs ellipsis (word omission), she compresses her articulation sharply. Consequently, readers must fill in the missing thought, which seems to be that love’s formulative power makes everything like “rowing in Eden,” or into a paradise where life’s swells are leveled. The allusion to Eden turns menacing, however, reminding the persona of the tossing sea of the present night and propelling anew an anguished longing for the anchorage of her lover’s presence on this night of storm.

“Wild Nights—Wild Nights!” may come as a surprise to readers who have thought of Emily Dickinson as the Amherst recluse, purposely rejecting life, including thoughts of romance, for the “higher calling” of art. Moreover, the poem proves decidedly up-to-date in its erotic celebration of love by way of imagery easily understood by a generation exposed to Freud. Even at the time it was published, Dickinson’s friend and editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, expressed anxiety lest unscrupulous minds should read into the poetry more than the sexually innocent Dickinson had intended. Yet the fact is that “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!” is but one of many poems Dickinson composed on the subject of love, several of them equally explicit.

Wild Nights—Wild Nights! Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Wild Nights—Wild Nights!”(poem 249) begins with the unusual rhyme scheme of abbb, only to abandon rhyme altogether in the second stanza, then assume it again in the final stanza, though in a pattern differing from the initial stanza. Throughout there is a heavy employment of trochees and a sustained pattern of dimeter line length, an unusual feature in a poet greatly indebted to the quatrains of alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter lines of the church hymnals of her day. Clearly, Dickinson appropriates rhythms conducive to the persona’s anguished mood in the poem.

This poem shows a fierce independence of conventional norms typical of all of her poetry, whether in form or subject matter. There is a fondness for the dash to isolate words and to imitate oral language. Here the dashes halt the pace of language and suggest the mind’s tendency to redefine continually. Concurrently, the resulting interruptions coerce readers into a more diligent reading and pursuit of interconnection.

Capitalization of nouns occurs similarly as a typical Dickinson feature. This makes one note the “thingness” of life around one (by definition, a noun is whatever exists), or the individuality of what one often takes for granted or sweeps away with abstraction. Throughout, the style is a plain one, nearly all of its diction stemming from the Germanic roots of the language.

Except for her biblical reference to Eden, there is an...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Wild Nights—Wild Nights! Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Boruch, Marianne. “Dickinson Descending.” The Georgia Review 40 (1986): 863-877.

Brantley, Richard E. Experience and Faith: The Late-Romantic Imagination of Emily Dickinson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Carruth, Hayden. “Emily Dickinson’s Unexpectedness.” Ironwood 14 (1986): 51-57.

Eberwein, Jane Donahue. An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Ferlazzo, Paul, ed. Critical Essays on Emily Dickinson. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984.

Grabher, Gudrun, Roland Hagenbüchle, and Cristanne Miller, ed. The Emily Dickinson Handbook. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Juhasz, Suzanne, ed. Feminist Critics Read Emily Dickinson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

Kirk, Connie Ann. Emily Dickinson: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Lundin, Roger. Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.

MacNeil, Helen. Emily Dickinson. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

Pollack, Vivian R. A Historical Guide to Emily Dickinson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Vendler, Helen Hennessey. Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004.