Robert Frost's 'Acquainted With the Night'

Pastoral Poet Takes a Different Turn in This Work

Robert Frost, American Poet

Underwood Archives / Contributor / Getty Images

Robert Frost, the quintessential New England poet, was actually born thousands of miles away in San Francisco. When he was very young, his father died and his mother moved with him and his sister to Lawrence, Massachusetts, and it was there where his roots in New England were first planted. He went to school at Dartmouth and Harvard universities but did not earn a degree and then worked as a teacher and editor. He and his wife went to England in 1912, and there Frost connected with Ezra Pound, who helped Frost get his work published. In 1915 Frost returned to the U.S. with two published volumes under his belt and an established following.

The poet Daniel Hoffman wrote in 1970 in a review of "The Poetry of Robert Frost": “He became a national celebrity, our nearly official poet laureate, and a great performer in the tradition of that earlier master of the literary vernacular, Mark Twain.” Frost read his poem "The Gift Outright" at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in January 1961 at the request of Kennedy.

A Terza Rima Sonnet

Robert Frost wrote a number of sonnets —examples include "Mowing" and “The Oven Bird.”  These poems are called 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, with 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 among 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.

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Snyder, Bob Holman & Margery. "Robert Frost's 'Acquainted With the Night'." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Snyder, Bob Holman & Margery. (2023, April 5). Robert Frost's 'Acquainted With the Night'. Retrieved from Snyder, Bob Holman & Margery. "Robert Frost's 'Acquainted With the Night'." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).