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On Robert Frost’s Poem “Acquainted with the Night”

Reading Notes

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A Terza Rima Sonnet
Robert Frost wrote a number of sonnets—examples in our library include “Mowing” and “The Oven Bird.” We call these poems sonnets because they have 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyme scheme, but they do not exactly conform to the traditional octet-sestet structure of the Petrarchan sonnet or the three-quatrains-and-a-couplet shape of the Shakespearean sonnet. “Acquainted with the Night” is an interesting variation among Frost’s sonnet-type poems, because it is written in terza rima—four three-line stanzas rhymed aba bcb cdc dad and a closing couplet rhymed aa.

Urban Loneliness
Acquainted with the Night” stands out among Frost’s poems because it is a poem of city solitude. Unlike his pastoral poems, which speak to us through images of the natural world, this poem has an urban setting:

“I have looked down the saddest city lane....
....an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street”
Even the moon is described as if it were a part of the manmade city environment:
“....at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky”
And unlike his dramatic narratives, which tease out the meanings in encounters between multiple characters, this poem is a soliloquy, spoken by a single lonely voice, a man who is quite alone and encounters only the darkness of night.

What Is the Night?
You might say “the night” in this poem is the speaker’s loneliness and isolation. You might say it is depression. Or knowing that Frost often wrote of tramps or bums, you might say it represents their homelessness, like Frank Lentricchia, who called the poem “Frost’s quintessential dramatic lyric of homelessness.” The poem uses the two lines forward/one line back form of terza rima to realize the sad, aimless gait of the hobo who has “outwalked the furthest city light” into the lonely darkness.

Reader Stories: On “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost

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