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Robert Frost's 'Acquainted with the Night' - review

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Introduction

Robert Frost's 'Acquainted with the Night' is a lyric poem which expresses the solitude and loneliness of the speaker, and also provides a self- revelation of one being alienated and not knowing where to belong, by presenting a story where the speaker finds acquaintance in the night as he walks down the sad city streets. The melancholy imagery is the first thing that relates you with the poem's theme. The setting of which he walks in the 'saddest city lane' (4) differs from Frost's usual countryside setting, which corresponds to the feeling of him not belonging to this world. Through images of walking in and out of the rain, the furthest city lights, the dark night and the saddest city lane, readers identify with the speaker, a lonely person who has become acquainted with the night. Nothing can be more powerful in expressing loneliness than the image of a man walking alone in the rain, in the middle of a sad street; and him being in the rain is emphasized by replicating 'in rain' in '[walking] out in rain - and back in rain' (2). The notion of distance is emphasized by words such as 'walked', 'out walked', 'passed', 'stood still', 'far away', 'further'... to express the sense of non-belonging, as he feels a distance from all these human objects. In addition, a collection of sight and sounds of the night is used to enhance the image, from the 'interrupted cry' (8) ...read more.

Middle

After the end-stopped lines, gradually a two line enjambment comes, then followed by a four line enjambment, then decreased to a three line enjambment. With enjambment, sense is carried without syntactical pauses, such as in 'I have [...] on his beat / and dropped my eyes' (5-6) which in addition to variation from the iambic meter, quickens the rhythm of the poem in the middle portion, giving the reader the experience of variation and moving out of the frame of rhythm set in the beginning and ending end-stop lines. With the speaker '[standing] still and [stopping] the sound of feet' (7), sibilance with alliteration on the 's' sound enhances the effect of the pace slowed to silence. The meter is extended and the line lengthened to 10 words, dragging the pace to stagnation, so much that the speaker could notice his footsteps stopping. This builds up for the sudden cry that changes the pace. 'When far away an interrupted cry' (8) is heard, the reader is brought out of the silence of the night quickly, and as the reader suddenly thinks the cry is for the speaker, the climax halts as the speaker understands the sad truth that the call was not intended for him, further amplifying the speakers desolation and sad alienation from the world, one in where even the slightest hope from a cry afar becomes disappointing as it is eventually found to be indifferent to the speaker. ...read more.

Conclusion

This can also be seen from the title itself, where the speaker is said to be ironically 'acquainted' with the night. (The 3rd line has the word 'walked out' reversed to become 'outwalked', providing interesting wordplay that provides an undercut to the seriousness of the poem, like the irony of the title.) If he does not feel comfortable with the night and uncomfortable with the society and other men, why else would he want to be acquainted with the night? The writer believes that he is not accepted, thus he avoids contact; but that is justified, as it is true that none of the cries from the society are out to reach him. In the end, the speaker sees a luminary clock in the sky, which is spatially disoriented and exaggerated to an' unearthly height' (11), further matching his mental state of disorientation. Probably this 'clock' is just the moon to the reader, but in this case the speaker sees it as a clock which symbolizes human objects, but he is indifferent to the time that what the clock tells. The clock conveys a strong message that the speaker has eventually lost himself through acquainting with the night, becoming mentally disoriented and strongly indifferent to all human things, even time. This poem not only conveys the mood of sense of loneliness, self-alienation and desertion, it also shows how such alienation can come from such a relationship between man and the society, the place where we usually find acquaintance - what other reason would one actually prefer the acquaintance of the night? ...read more.

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