We grow accustomed to the Dark— by Emily Dickinson

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Summary and Analysis

Emily Dickinson composed “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark —” in 1862. Here, as in many of her poems, Dickinson uses ballad meter, an alternation between tetrameter and trimeter—four and three beats, respectively—that produces a songlike rhythm. The stanzas conform to an ABCB rhyme scheme. In all but the fourth stanza, the B rhymes are slanted, relying entirely on consonance (e.g., “Brain” and “within.”) These rhyme features are also typical of Dickinson’s work, and she uses them to thematic effect in this poem.

In the first stanza, Dickinson introduces the central image: the dark. The speaker says that “We grow accustomed to the Dark — / When light is put away —.” This statement functions at two levels. It has a thematic significance that unfolds over the course of the poem. At this level, “the Dark” is figurative and thus the statement can be read as yielding broader truths. On a more concrete level, Dickinson offers us a scene in which the speaker encounters “the Dark” upon leaving her neighbor’s home. At this level, the light from the neighbor’s lamp dims as the speaker progresses into the darkness of the road.

In the second stanza, the speaker describes the moment when one “uncertain step[s]” into darkness. It is a moment of adjustment and adaptation, made necessary by the “newness of the night.” This adaptation occurs by “fit[ting] our Vision to the Dark —” and stepping forth into the road “erect,” having found a provisional grasp of the surroundings. Dickinson renders this threshold moment through caesura, employing her signature em dash in the middle of the first and third lines. These halting em dashes, along with the stanza’s alternating capitalizations, produce a staggering effect that mimics the awkward gait of the poem’s speaker.

In the third stanza, Dickinson traces the metaphorical meaning of darkness, connecting it to states of mind and soul. Such states she describes as “larger — Darknesses — / Those Evenings of the Brain —.” Dickinson does not explain the nature of these “larger” states of interior darkness, but there are two legitimate readings. First, these “Evenings of the Brain” correspond to states of incognizance. When one encounters the unknown, the mind is occluded, and “not a Moon disclose a sign — / Or Star — come out — within —.” That is to say, one’s mental points of reference and significance are absent, leaving one incapable of navigating the world. Second, these “Evening” states may be read as moods of despair or depression. By such a reading, the absent “sign” or “Star” points to an absence of hope. This reading is bolstered by the traditional use of stars as symbols of aspiration.

In the fourth stanza, Dickinson addresses the clumsiness and pain that accompany the process of moving through darkness. She cites “the Bravest,” who “grope a little — / And sometimes hit a Tree / Directly in the Forehead —.” The specific reference to the forehead is significant in that it gestures, through metonymy, to the mental darkness mapped out in the prior stanza. Thus, this image...

(The entire section is 760 words.)