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The content presented here is for informational or educational purposes only. These are just the authors' personal opinions and knowledge. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are based on the authors' lives and experiences and may be changed to protect personal information. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Johnathan Colourfield's Academic Papers - 2. Critical Commentary - First Year

Examination Text. We were given the poem "Acquainted with the Night" by Robert Frost in the exam (blind) and we had to analyse it in terms of its poetic form. This exam i recieved an A+ for and it is being used as a piece of exemplar work for the academic board.

POEM

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,

O luminary clock against the sky

 

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

COMMENTARY

In ‘Acquainted with the Night’ by Robert Frost, there is a structure of 4 tercets and a final rhyming couplet. This is classed as open form because it is not as restricted as the closed form (which forms such as the ode, the epitaph, the sonnet etc.). This is also classed as concrete poetry because it is not a familiar structure that a reader is used to (if a reader was used to a type of poetry like the sonnet, it would be called visual poetry).

There is an ABA rhyming scheme, with the central line of each of the first four stanzas rhyming with the first and second lines of the following stanzas with the final couplet rhyming with the central line of the fourth stanza. I believe this is to give a feeling of monotony to the way the poem is read.

There is use of the Caesura technique in lines 2 and 6. Caesura causes a pause in a line to make an effect. For example, in Line 2, Frost uses the caesura to create the feeling of the never ending cycle of him going out ‘in rain’ and ‘back in rain’. This makes the reader feel as if this is something he constantly does because of the - - caesura. There is also use of enjambment in lines 5, 7 and 8. Enjambment causes the flow of a line to go into the next line so it is read as one sentence. I particularly like how the enjambment in Stanza 3 is throughout the stanza, making the story that the speaker is telling far more interesting because it encapsulates the absent listener. In all other lines, the end stop technique is used. End stop is when the line stops with punctuation at the end of the line, so each line is read in different phrases.

The metre of the poem follows the iambic pentameter rule, with there being 10 syllables in each line and a set of 5 iambs in each line. This poem is quite similar in its structure to an Elizabethan sonnet because of the 14 lines and its separation into different stanzas and then the couplet at the end. However, this cannot be classed as an Elizabethan sonnet because this poem uses tercets instead of quatrains. The language used in the poem is quite specific with words such as ‘acquainted’ in the title and lines 1 and 14 and then in line 13, i find the use of ‘Proclaimed’ particularly effective because it really emphasises how specific the language is in the poem. One thing that I notice while reading the poem is that there constant use of Euphony. Euphony is when a word sounds particularly pleasing to the tongue and Frost uses long syllabic words throughout which very few of the words being one syllable. This shows I believe that he wanted to portray a sense of unification within the language of the piece. There is a lack of alliteration and assonance so this I believe emphasises the sad tone and the self deprecative nature of the speaker. There is one example of sibilance in Line 7, in which the ‘s’ sound is used four times. I believe this is so particular emphasis can be placed on these words, in order to emphasise how the world continues around him but he is alone in his own world. As the language is specific, the diction used in the poem is also concrete and Frost also uses high (or Formal) diction. High diction is when a poet uses elaborate language, extensive words, follows the rules of syntax and decorum within the poem. The use of decorum is a rule a great amount of poets follow (Sassoon, Wordsworth etc.) but it is not a rule followed by all, such modern writers as Carol Ann Duffy like to break the rules of decorum and go against the accepted norms within the poetic form. This is not evident within ‘Acquainted with the Night’.

The first stanza can be read in two different ways. A reader can take simply just its denotation, in that he has walked a long way and that he goes out in rain. Or a reader can take its connotation, to do with the loneliness of the character. I believe, the entirely of Stanza 3 is a large connotation to do with his refusal to interact with society because he ‘stopped’ when he heard the ‘cry’ (Lines 7-9). There is particularly a lack of antithesis in this poem, which shows how direct Frost wanted his connotations and denotations to be.

In terms of the figurative language used within the poem, there is no use of pun or metonymy. In addition to this, I did not see any use of simile and metaphor, which I believe shows that Frost didn’t want to communicate his poem in ‘simplistic’ ways but would, from what I see, far rather make the reader think through complicated ideas. There is also a lack of synaesthesia and synecdoche. The use of personification is also lacking within the poem.

However, Frost does use several techniques to communicate his ideas. I find his use of anaphora (the repetition of words or phrases to create emphasis) in line 2 with the word ‘rain’, quite interesting because of the idea that I previously mentioned about the monotonous nature of life. He also uses an anaphora in an entire line, which is quite unusual because Line 1 is repeated in Line 14 with even the same end stop included. I find this quite effective because with the use of ‘night’ and the quite elaborate use of ‘I have been one acquainted’, it shows how the night is his place and he dislike interaction with society (I will come back to this during my discussion of the meaning of the poem). This poem could also be classed as an apostrophe because the speaker is speaking quite vaguely and is expecting someone to listen (his reader can be classed as the listener). An apostrophe is when a speaker speaks to an absent listener. However, this could also not be classed as an apostrophe because he is not directly referring to anyone.

I find the use of litotes (under exaggeration for emphasis) particularly effective because instead of using a hyperbole to emphasis his loneliness, in Line 6 he simply ‘dropped his eyes, unwilling to explain’. I find the idea of this moment particularly beautiful because he refuses to look at the watchman because in this line, you get a feeling of shame radiating from the speaker. This awkwardness continues into the rest of the poem. This awkwardness is unravelled through the use of a double line hyperbole (over exaggeration for emphasis over two lines) in Lines 11 and 12, in which he looks up at a ‘luminary clock’ which one presumes is the moon and explains it is beyond the earth and this why I feel it is a strong use of hyperbole. This idea of the ‘luminary clock’ as an image is also Frost using the Symbolism technique. The moon is not only a symbol of hope, it can also through the connotation of the general tone of the poem, be a sign of great loneliness because it is independent from everything else. It is almost as if the speaker desires to be the moon, but this of course is a personal refection. Within the poem, there is also a lack of allusion. Allusion is a reference to an external source, or to an event or cultural influence in the time or before the time the poem was written.

All of these connotations would not be read if I was looking at the poem from a Formalist point of view because I have brought a lot of my own views into my commentary, which would not be allowed if I was working under the restrictions of a Formalist setting. Within Formalism, it is simply just the text in front of the reader and not any personal feelings or cultural tendencies.

From what I read of the poem, there is a sense of sadness throughout and it slowly develops into a feeling of self depreciation and rejection of society. There could also be another reading, which is that the speaker is longing to reach out to society but cannot find the confidence to reach out but of course, this is just another critical viewpoint.

Stanza 1 focuses on his loneliness and the repetition of life and Stanza 2 following this develops it into the speaker rejecting ‘the watchman’ and therefore gives the reader the feeling that he rejects society. This rejection is even further develop into Stanza 3 in which he stands still and refuses to help the ‘interrupted cry’ and just stands by and lets whatever happens, happen. My opinion on the opening of Stanza 4 is that, he feels that no-one needs him anymore and that society has just completely abandoned him. However, another critical viewpoint is that, he could be making the whole world seem to be about him and that no-one else matters because he has been ignored. This creates a paradox because he is ignored and doesn’t get attention but when someone else needs attention he refuses to give it, which begs a moral question of the reader. In the final couplet, he states that time is nothing to him because he is friends with the night. One thing I particularly like about this poem is that there is no reference to the day time within the poem, only the night. I believe that this was to portray the gloomy feeling of the entire poem.

This poem I feel is quite effective in terms of its expression to the reader. Frost uses quite an expressive character, keeping the story open and honest for its listener but still manages to keep a personal boundary for the character within the poem. This technique I feel is emphasised through the physical action within the poem with the ‘outwalk’ of the ‘furthest city light’ and particularly the line ‘I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet’. I find this effective because it is quite direct and denotative, which creates a sense of personal concern for the speaker’s character. Despite the character being quite internalised in terms of context, he does not come across as internalised which I find to be the most effective aspect of the poem; the confusion in terms of the main character is what drives the piece, the use of this technique reminds of the nameless main character in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel ‘Rebecca’ in which The Second Mrs. De Winter remains a constant mystery.

Frost successfully creates a self deprecating character for the reader, through the use of figurative language and the formal features of the poem. The depressed tone of the poem only emphasises the self deprecation of the main speaker of the poem. What is also quite effective is that, in the majority there is no existence of another character, apart from the watchman who is ignored; this makes the reader more vulnerable to the speaker’s depressive state and therefore makes the poem even that bit more effective.

Note: Copyright remains with the author Robert Frost of the poem "Acquainted with the Night". The paper is copyrighted to me.

Copyright © 2013 Johnathan Colourfield; All Rights Reserved.
The content presented here is for informational or educational purposes only. These are just the authors' personal opinions and knowledge. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are based on the authors' lives and experiences and may be changed to protect personal information. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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