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Comparing the Themes of Night and Dark in Poetry by Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost

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We Grow Accustomed to the Dark

We grow accustomed to the Dark --
When light is put away --
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye --

A Moment -- We uncertain step
For newness of the night --
Then -- fit our Vision to the Dark --
And meet the Road -- erect --

And so of larger -- Darkness --
Those Evenings of the Brain --
When not a Moon disclose a sign --
Or Star -- come out -- within --

The Bravest -- grope a little --
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead --
But as they learn to see --

Either the Darkness alters --
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight --
And Life steps almost straight.

Emily Dickinson

Acquainted With the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost

The similar ideas of dark and night appear in works by both Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, but the meaning of the two concepts in context of the literary works differ greatly. In Emily Dickinson’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” and Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” the theme of night and darkness is compared and contrasted through the literary elements of point of view, imagery, and structure.

The concept of darkness and night is portrayed in both Emily Dickinson’s and Robert Frost’s poem through the use of point of view. In each of these poems, the poet writes in the first tense, giving the reader a sense that the narrator has personally experienced the presence of the symbolic “darkness” and “night”. However, while “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” is written in a plural point of view, “Acquainted with the Night” is written in a singular view. This gives a differing meaning to dark and night between these two poems, because although Dickinson’s plural poem encompasses humanity as a whole, showing the dark to be a natural point in life, Frost’s poem depicts the night his character is experiencing as a lonely, solitary happening. The differences in these two poems help to show night as a more unnatural and depressing experience than the dark that happens to everyone.

Imagery aids in comparing and contrasting the dark and night expressed in “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” and “Acquainted with the Night”. It can be seen in both “When not a Moon disclose a sign – Or Star – come out – within” as well as “I have outwalked the furthest city light” that the imagery in the poems bring about a vision of darkness. It shows that these concepts and dark and night are negative, rather upsetting or sad experiences. In contrast, though both dark, the types of situations the imagery presents varies between the poems. In Dickinson’s poem, the images the reader sees expresses a general blackness and inability to see anything, which can be seen in “The Bravest – grope a little – And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead – But as they learn to see –”. Thus from the imagery, the reader gets a sense that the dark represents becoming lost and not knowing where to go, since the narrator can’t see anything. Frost’s poem give a more depressing view of night, which is illustrated in “I have looked down the saddest city lane”. The character in the poem isn’t lost in the dark as in Dickinson’s poem, but observing his dreary surroundings, symbolic for his gloomy outlook on life. Thus, while dark is written as being lost in life and not knowing quite what to do, night is described as a depression the narrator is experiencing.

Dickinson’s and Frost’s poems compare and contrast the symbolic notions of dark and night through poem structure. Both poems are written as a set of stanzas. By separating parts of the poem’s, both poets have effectively shown the experience of dark and night as a progression of time. Though in Dickinson’s the poem progresses from a sense of hopelessness to the narrator finally beginning to find his way, Frost’s poem continues the same thread of depression throughout his poem. Regardless, the stanzas section of f stages of the experience of both dark and night, showing that both of these themes are life experiences that someone works through as time develops. The rhyme scheme in these two works aids in contrasting the dark and night. In “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark”, the verse is free. The free rhyme scheme expresses the unstableness the narrator is experiencing in response to the dark. He is unfamiliar and lost in the darkness. This is a great distinction from the rhyme scheme in “Acquainted with the Night” that Frost sticks to religiously. This more structured style symbolizes how the narrator is more familiar with the darkness, because it has been with him for a long time and he has adapted to the feeling. So where the dark is shown as an unexpected, probably short-term bout of confusion, the night is a gradual depression that the narrator has fallen into long ago.

Though point of view, imagery, and structure, “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” by Emily Dickinson and “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost, the themes of dark and night are compared and contrasted. Analysis of the poems has proven the dark to symbolize an abrupt feeling of being lost and not knowing what to do next, whereas the night represents a long-term depression the narrator experiences.


manatita44 from london on December 18, 2014:

Great poems, great people and great analysis. Suberb!

wow on December 14, 2013:

this is a perfect analysis of these poems i wish i could write like this for an ap exam :/

Darrylmdavis from Brussels, Belgium on December 03, 2012:

Neat and interesting hub. Thanks for sharing :-)