Literary Analysis – Robert Frost’s Acquainted With the Night

As an English teacher as well as a writer I often times will draft literary analysis examples on the fly to show how to examine different genres of writing. Today I looked at a poem by Robert Frost entitled Acquainted With the Night and drafted a quick analysis essay that I figured I would share so that I can refer back to it the next time I need something similar.

Poetry is often used to elicit empathy from the reader. The poet crafts words and phrases into rhyme and meter in an effort to elicit a response from his audience that is commensurate with his own emotional state. In the poem “Acquainted with the Night,” poet Robert Frost seeks to create empathy for the speaker of the piece, who is largely coming to terms with his own struggle with depression and internal darkness.

In the poem, Frost utilizes a structure that is not altogether dissimilar to a Shakespearean sonnet. He gives us four stanzas, three lines each, followed by a rhyming couplet. The scheme of ABA, BCB, CDC, DAD, AA allows the reader to follow the pattern of Frost’s thought process and aids the reader in understanding his meaning; that struggling with depression is like wandering alone through a dark and stormy night in the wrong part of town.

Frost’s tone here is bleak. He uses imagery to paint a picture of darkness and help the reader understand the feeling of being completely underwhelmed. A good example can be found in the first stanza when he writes “I have outwalked the furthest city light” (line 3), positing an existence and struggle that extends beyond the illuminated world of what is known and into a dark place where only uncertainty remains. Frost’s examination of internalized depression continues, elaborating and further emphasizing the emptiness and isolation that such a situation can impress upon a person. “I have looked down the saddest city lane./ I have passed by the watchman on his beat/ and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain” (lines 4-6). Here Frost is specifically talking about the emotional weight of depression, passing the “watchman on his beat,” representing the collective figure of possible protection or salvation from his condition, and the guilt and burden that is often associated with living with depression. He is “unwilling to explain” his condition because he fears what reaction it might provoke.

Frost wraps his entire theme in the blanket of a major metaphor. The “night” is meant to represent depression and his speaker is slowly coming to terms with those feelings. In the final stanza, in a rhyming couplet Frost writes that the world, here personified by the moon shining in the night sky, has “proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right/ I have been acquainted with the night” (lines 13-14). Here, Frost is making a declarative statement that there is no objectivity to the concept of darkness and depression, it simply is. He has sought, thus far, to allow us to empathize with those who might be struggling with such emotions, here he is concluding my reminding those who do not suffer that there is no place for judgment.

Poetry is a form devised to deliver and convey emotions. No rule exists that says the emotions conveyed need be positive. Robert Frost writes about the darkness that many people face, and how on a long enough timeline it ceases to be anything but a regular part of their life, sad as it may be.


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