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On "Acquainted With the Night"

Frank Lentricchia

The sense of homelessness in "Acquainted With the Night" [Frost’s quintessential dramatic lyric of homelessness] becomes acute when the speaker is granted his wish and the full burden of loneliness descends upon him. When the interrupted cry breaks over the roofs from another street, he stops his feet, but it is a cry that concerns him not at all--no one calls him home. And when his glimpse at the clock tower (or perhaps it is the moon) suggests to him the indifference of time--it neither guides nor judges his journey, it just flows on inexorably--his homelessness begins to reveal its cosmological dimension. The cruel irony of his "acquaintance" with the night surfaces when the poem circles back to repeat its opening line which now begins to implicate the real state of the human condition with the state of darkness itself--they are reciprocally complementary--and the state of darkness begins to figure living without enclosure, with man on the outside and all the windows of the universe darkened.

"Acquainted With the Night" speaks to the confrontation with nothingness, to what Wallace Stevens called the "experience of annihilation." It was God who died, Stevens wrote, and we share in that death because we are left feeling "dispossessed and alone in a solitude, like children without parents, in a home that seemed deserted, in which the amical rooms and halls had taken on a look of hardness and emptiness." The furthest range of Frost's poem merges with Stevens's meditation on the feeling of metaphysical homelessness. With all chances gone for a harmonized relation of self and nature, the only enclosure possible is the one which the self can make and impose on an inhospitable universe. The image of self that we are left with in "Acquainted With the Night" is an image of frozen will, of feet stopped, with darkness all around and no constructive act forthcoming.

From Robert Frost: Modern Poetics and the Landscapes of Self. Copyright 1975 by Duke University Press.

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