Acquainted with the Night

by Robert Frost

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

There is really only one main character in Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night," and that is the speaker. This speaker, ostensibly, walks the city streets at night. He walks for a long time, lowers his eyes when he chances upon another person, and occasionally stops to listen for "the sound of feet," or a "far away . . . cry." The speaker is evidently suffering from depression. He is lonely, lost and feels hopeless.

The night in the poem, through which the speaker walks and with which he is "acquainted," symbolizes his depression. It is dark and lonely, characterized by constant rain. The darkness of the night, and thus of the speaker's depression, is also emphasized by several references to lights which are distant and unreachable. He walks beyond the reach of the "furthest city light" and glances upwards at an illuminated clock-face, which is "at an unearthly height." Light usually symbolizes hope, and the fact that the lights here are out of reach indicates that so, too, is any hope the speaker has of escaping the darkness of his depression.

The poem begins and ends with the line, "I have been one acquainted with the night." The poem is thus enclosed by the night, just as the speaker is enclosed by his depression. He feels it is inescapable, though he is "unwilling to explain" why this might be.

There is one minor character in the poem: "the watchman on his beat." He makes a fleeting appearance, and his only purpose is to help us better understand the speaker. The speaker passes the watchman but is careful not to meet his eye, apparently to avoid the obligation to explain. Ostensibly, the speaker perhaps does not want to explain to the watchman why he is out walking in the middle of the night in the pouring rain.

However, the speaker's refusal to meet the watchman's eyes might also have a deeper meaning. A watchman is a figure who represents security; he is there to prevent or stop crime. Thus, the fact that the speaker seems anxious to avoid the watchman perhaps indicates that he feels guilty about something he has or thinks he has done. Perhaps he simply feels ashamed and unworthy to meet the eyes of another. Perhaps the speaker doesn't want the watchman to see his loneliness and his sadness. In this sense, the watchman helps us understand that the speaker's depression is a private, shameful thing that he holds close to himself so as not to expose it to others.

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