October 5, 2018

Prompt: Acquainted with the Night

I think most people would consider an "acquaintance" to be a person we know, but not someone we would describe as close friend. In this time of social media "friends," we probably have many more acquaintances than we have true friends.

When I heard Garrison Keillor read Robert Frost's “Acquainted with the Night,” I thought about the word and wondered if Frost's relationship with the night was like that - known, but not known very well.

A dictionary will tell you I am wrong because "acquainted" means having personal knowledge of something by way of study and experiences. A lawyer is "acquainted with law" and that (hopefully) means he is informed about it through studying it and dealing with it in real situations.

This made me reread Frost's poem looking for the deeper relationship the speaker has with the night from studying and experiencing it. This is not some lightweight relationship with the night.  

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-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

When I studied this poem in college, it was presented the poet's thoughts on depression. Experiencing depression was like walking through the night. Whether the person walks in a city or beyond it to where there is no light, he is alone.

That interpretation seems less certain to me now. I feel that the poem is as much about experiencing the literal night and darkness as it is about any symbolic meanings we attach to the night.

The night does not "call me back or "say good-by" and the night - and my interpretation - is "neither wrong nor right."

For our October writing prompt, write a poem about something (not someone) that you are acquainted with. That means you know it quite well - both by study of some kind and by personal experiences.

Follow Frost's titling and use "acquainted with" as part of your title.

You also might want to follow Frost's other formal elements. His poem is strict iambic pentameter. It has 14 lines like a sonnet. It has a terza rima rhyme scheme (aba bcb cdc dad aa). That rather complex "third rhyme" is credited to Dante Alighieri from his The Divine Comedy. Be warned: terza rima is easier in Italian because so many Italian words have vowel endings.


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