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Poetic Aside: Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost

The Night
The Night
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Robert Frost, in his sonnet “Acquainted with the Night,” takes the reader on a journey. His use of diction presents a dark tone and major themes such as isolation. The speaker in this poem begins by introducing the reader to the conflict in his life. Then, he tells of his journey through it, and though it ends with the same line it began with, the overall tone is lighter by that time supposedly because of conflict resolution. Robert Frost’s use of diction and imagery in his poem “Acquainted with the Night” introduces the themes of loneliness and isolation.

“I have been one acquainted with the night” the speaker in Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” begins and ends his verse with this line. He appears, based on the rest of the text, to have suffered or experienced pain. He seems to say with this line that he understands separation, isolation, and loneliness. This line lends itself to the overall tone of the poem in that it is very dark. It uses the word “night” which can mean empty, dark, separate, isolated, alone, or a period of despair (Dictionary.com). Generally, the word “night” has a bit of a more negative connotation because it is associated with the darkness that comes when it is actually nighttime. The speaker says he’s “acquainted with the night” which leads to the belief that he has an incomplete knowledge or experience with “night” (Maxson 73). This may mean that he does not completely understand the darkness he’s thrown into. Acquainted, however, can also mean “having a personal knowledge of as a result of... experience” (Dictionary.com). This could lead the reader to believe that the speaker has been to the “night,” or this darkness that he’s talking about, frequently and completely understands what is going on but maybe doesn't know how to get out.

Although this poem is officially classified as a sonnet, it could also be considered a ballad because it begins and ends with the same line and has conflict and resolution in a rhyming format. In other words it tells a story. The speaker could be introducing conflict in the second line when he says “I have walked out in the rain – and back in the rain”. The “rain” is possibly the conflict that the speaker is experiencing. What the speaker could be trying to say in this line is that no matter what, he can’t get away from that conflict no matter how hard he tries. He could also be trying to say that he physically walks out into rain to get away from the conflict but when he goes back inside he’s still in the “rain” or conflict.

After the introduction of the conflict, the speaker tries to leave or escape it and ends up in the darkness of the unknown. The third line in the poem refers to a far away light in the village that the speaker surpasses. This supports the major themes of loneliness and isolation because he’s walking further into the night than he ever has before and he’s alone in the venture. When the speaker says “and I dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain,” when he passes the night watchman, it supports the idea that he’s just experienced some major conflict either within himself or with someone he loves, and he’s embarrassed about it . The imagery in this line suggests that he was looking ahead, but when he became embarrassed, he looked at the ground in order to avoid confrontation or suspicion. The fact that he’s walking alone at night suggests that he may have fought with his wife or significant other. His shame may also suggest that he was kicked out of his house by someone, perhaps his wife. Line ten helps support the idea that the speaker was forced to leave following the introduction of the conflict by presenting the speaker’s desire to be wanted or needed. It reads in such a way that the reader can assume he heard someone yell to him in anger, and he was no longer welcome in his own house. It also further impresses the theme of isolation.

The conflict resolution begins in line twelve with the word “luminary.” The use of this word instantly lightens the tone of the last few lines. It contrasts with the word “night” because it means light, bright, and can even represent hope. Because Frost’s poems are generally nature-related, the use of a clock as a beacon may also refer to an old life, an unenlightened life (Squires 36-46). The last line, though it is the same as the first, has a lighter tone because of the resolution in lines twelve and thirteen. It becomes more a flashback than a claim. The speaker remembers what the night was like, and is in no hurry to return there. This last line is the speaker’s way of reminding himself of that fact.

Frost’s use of words such as “night,” “rain,” “furthest,” “saddest,” “dropped,” “unwilling,” “stopped,” and “unearthly” throw the poem into a shadow. This dark tone can, however, be represented by one word: “night.” Frost uses this word at the beginning and at the end of the poem in order to encompass all of the feelings these other words represented to the speaker, feelings such as isolation, loneliness, hopelessness, and shame. This dark tone is abated in line twelve by one word “luminary,” which is the exact opposite of the word night, and therefore represents what the night lacks for the speaker. When the speaker uses the word “proclaimed” in the beginning of line thirteen it may mean that he is no longer ashamed of his hardships as he was in line five when he encounters a watchman. It’s almost as though he is more proud of himself for getting through it because proclamations are loud and huge and important. The rest of the line, however, may lead the reader to believe that he doesn't know how to approach a complete resolution by apologizing or accepting and forgiving.

In the poem “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost, the major themes include isolation and loneliness, but they change to hopeful resolution in the last three lines of the poem. These themes are presented with Frost’s use of diction and imagery.