Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Acquainted with the Night"

I haven’t forgotten entirely about sonnets during my recent peregrinations, & today’s Weekly Poem is a long-standing personal favorite written by none other than this blog’s titular banjoist, Robert Frost.

"Acquainted with the Night" is interesting on a number of levels. From a formal perspective, it does conclude with the couplet associated with English sonnets; however, rather than have three quatrains (four-line stanzas), typically with rhymes in alternate lines (e.g., the first stanza typically runs ABAB), the poem is written in Terza Rima—the stanza scheme of Dante’s Divina Commedia. As you can see the rhyme patterns link stanzas rather than dividing them. The rhyme scheme works as follows:

1A, 2B, 3A
4B, 5C, 6B
7C, 8D, 9C
10D, 11A, 12D
13A, 14A

This strikes me as a very peripatetic rhyme scheme as it carries the reader forward thru the poem; rather than providing three different perspectives in individualized quatrains, the four tercets (three-line stanzas) keep us moving on a walk thru the night. Even the concluding couplet isn’t an independent summation, since it links back to the preceding stanza thru rhyme.

"Acquainted with the Night" is also noteworthy for its wonderful use of speech rhythms. Although Frost typically worked in iambic pentameter, his lines flow very naturally because he had such a fine ear for the rhythm of everyday speech.

Frost worked well in the sonnet form—as far as I can recall, his other sonnets are all in the more traditional "English" form—three quatrains & a concluding couplet; a few other noteworthy Frost sonnets are "Never Again Would Bird's Song be the Same," "Once By the Pacific" & "Design."


Acquainted with the Night

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.

Robert Frost

UPDATE: Eberle pointed out that I made rather a hash of the rhyme scheme - the price you pay for trying to think at 4:30 a.m. after a night of dreaming turmoil. I've corrected the rhyme scheme diagram since the initial posting.


  1. thank you for sharing. i really love this line about walking beyond the last city light. this poem certainly does the job of transcending the observer of art to that dark highway.

    i have a gift for you of sorts. i didn't buy it, but i found it and i think you will love it. perhaps you've already read it, but when i came across this today while researching the purpose of poetry in our lives, i knew i had to send you the link.

    EXCERPT: "Less than a month before his assassination President Kennedy gave a speech at Amherst College in honor of the late poet Robert Frost. He emphasized the importance of the poet in American society as critic, commentator, and "champion of the individual mind and sensibility." The speech was later published in The Atlantic."


  2. Hi Jen & Jacqueline:

    Jen: What a lovely gift-- I just finished reading it & found it quite moving.

    Jacqueline: You have excellent taste, because this is a fantastic poem.

  3. It still lingers - one acid test of a good poem, I always think.

  4. Always happy to read Robert Frost, being a fellow Massahusetts-ian (!), although I think he was born out here in California. What I love in his poems is the way he can address deep and often solemn territory and yet convey strength and beauty at the same time, never feeling defeated. And what a craftsman he was.

  5. Heh. I'm glad you corrected the rhyme scheme before I got here, else I'd have spent half the day trying to figure it out.

    4:30 in the morning? Eek.

  6. Hi Dave, René & Sandra:

    Dave: Yes, I agree on that.

    René: Yes, he did travel in some pretty somber countryside. Frost was originally from San Francisco!

    Sandra: Not such a good night. So it goes.

  7. Thank God you said you were up at 4:30 because I've been trying to work out how you fit in all your prolific posting (at such a high caliber) despite having been absent and elsewhere occupied.
    I was beginning to think we were dealing with a superhuman, here.

    This was still an excellent post, by the way.


  8. This has always been a favorite of mine. Thanks for posting it here.

  9. The night does indeed have a way of reaching the depths of consciousness. You certainly gift us with your posts.

  10. Hi Kat, Karen & Rose Marie:

    Sorry I'm so behind on my responses!

    Kat: Just a lot of long day trips, but it does take it out of a guy. & still they come, most of this week. Glad you liked the poem.

    Karen: So glad you liked this one-- it's a poem that always sticks in my mind.

    Rose Marie: True about the night-- thanks.


Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.