Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 742
“True Night” opens with the narrator’s mind sheathed in sleep in a dark bed. From without this embrace of dream, an insistent “clatter” draws the poet’s mind from sleep into wakefulness, like a fish on a hook. As he awakes, the realization seizes him that the clatter must be coming from a raccoon because of the distinct sounds of bowls, plates, and jars crashing and rolling about and the fact that he’s been through this “ritual” before. The narrator rises unsteadily from bed, grabs a stick, and stumbles off to confront the intruder only to realize that there are more raccoons than one. Describing himself from the raccoons’ perspective as a “huge pounding demon,” he chases them around the corner outside and hears their claws scratching bark as they scurry up a tree.
From the bottom of the tree, the poet looks up at two young raccoons gazing down at him while clinging to two broken branches that stand out from either side of the pine tree. Admonishing them like bad children, the narrator “roar[s]” at the two for continually waking him at night and ransacking his kitchen.
The narrator now stands silent beneath the tree, focusing on the cold air against his naked skin. Instantaneously shocked into fuller consciousness, he comes to himself and the environment in which he is now fully immersed, becoming aware of how his bare foot contours itself to the gravel on which he stands, and how the stick he holds is positioned. At this moment of nondiscursive consciousness, time seems to stop. It is as though he were in this moment “forever.”
In this moment of consciousness, the narrator encompasses all he surveys: the long streaks of cloud that flow into “milky thin” moonlight, the black silhouette of a pine branch before the full moon, the surrounding hillsides of pine trees that “whisper” with the breeze, and chirruping crickets that sing from distant “cold coves” hidden in the night.
Turning from the tree, the narrator walks slowly down the path that leads back to the beds within the house. With a breeze blowing his hair and giving his naked flesh goosebumps, he again regards the visual effects of the moon in the windswept streaks of cloud and the sounds of the rustling pines. The image of himself blooming like a dandelion ready to disperse its seed to the wind or spreading like a sea anemone, waving in the “cool pearly water,” fills his mind. The poet realizes that despite his fifty years, his life is “still” consumed with mundane details like “[s]crewing nuts down on bolts.” The last three lines of this stanza are subject to several possible interpretations. Perhaps the use of the word “still” expresses regret that all the time he has been alive has only brought him to quotidian occupations, like the manual labor his words imply. Nevertheless, it is more likely that he speaking of all aspects of his life, whether termed “artistic” or mundane. In this case, “still” implies consistency and faithfulness to his calling and his craft.
Referring metaphorically to the dark recess where his family lies asleep as the “shadow pool,” the narrator reflects on his children and a “lover” he has been sleeping with for years. Without using a verb “to be” to join the “pool” where these loved ones sleep with the phrase “True night” that follows, Snyder joins the two syntactically, nevertheless. It is with the family that his “true night” dwells, not with the raw power of the night he has just communed with, however wondrous in its intense beauty. After all, the last two lines of the stanza state that one ought not to “stay too long awake” in the dark world of nature, when called back to where one’s “True night” lies.
With this shift in consciousness, the poet suddenly becomes aware that the hair that had been described as “loose waving” in stanza five is now just “tangled”; even his feet, once exquisitely alive as they shaped themselves to the gravel, are merely “dusty.” He returns to the “sheath” of sleep the raccoons had jolted him from, greatly in need of sleep for the day that fast approaches. The narrator emphasizes the necessity of dealing with everyday reality and rising to work with the coming dawn by setting the phrase “With the dawn” in its own one-line stanza.
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