What is the tone of this poem, "The Sound of Night" by Maxine Kumin?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The tone of Maxine Kumin's poem "The Sound of Night" is dark and foreboding. From the way the author describes the night, it is clear that it's something particular, possibly dangerous, but mostly importantly--foreign and strange. The last couplet of the poem sheds light on why that is.

By the lake, locked black away and tight,

we lie, day creatures, overhearing night.

It's implied that we, as creatures of the day, don't really belong in the night. There are many ways poets have approached the dark hours of the day and some of them find it peaceful and reassuring rather than scary, but Kumin's poem takes an almost primeval view. The way she describes building a fire and waiting for the dawn to come to rescue heavily suggests that there is something in the night to be feared. The sounds and noises don't come from dangerous creatures, but all together they give off an ominous vibe. On their own, perhaps the sounds wouldn't be so bad, but all at once they make for a disturbing cacophony. During the night, the world is different, the poem seems to say. A place where people maybe shouldn't tread. So we wait, listening, not really knowing what's out there, until morning comes and sheds light on us again.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tone is how an author, when examining tone in writing, regards a subject. In regards to Maxine Kumin's poem "The Sound of Night," the tone of the poem depicts one of fear.

Essentially, the speaker of the poem is detailing the "things which go bump in the night." The speaker is very aware of the terrifying surroundings and sounds, given the word choice. The choice of words, such as "dark," "chitter," "hugguermugger," and "vesper," allude to the fear one can experience when surrounded by lurking shadows and unknown sounds.

The poem's tone of fear is compounded through the poet's choice of using nonsensical words and dark imagery (given people tend to fear the unknown and night masks and compounds the unknowns).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial