Poetry Mix Tape #3: Because the Night

One never forgets a first crush: shy smiles and shaky knees and a desperate yearning to be noticed. My first poetry crush would have to be Robert Frost. Now, judging from the photo above, you wouldn’t think that old Frost would have what it takes to make a girl weak in the knees. However, his naturally cadenced rhymes and visions of the natural world gave him a special place in my young poet’s heart.

Yes, I probably first read “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” or “The Road Not Taken,” but my favorite Frost poem is “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,
A luminary clock against the sky

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

There are many reasons that it is my favorite. One is its form. Although it is a sonnet, it doesn’t announce itself as such due to Frost’s decision to break each stanza at three lines instead of four. It was the first sonnet I encountered other than Shakespeare, and the use of natural language within this formal structure was a revelation at the time.

It is also one of the first poems I read that gave me an understanding of tone – I think it is one of the loneliest poems I have ever read, especially the interrupted cry that is not for the speaker. I could picture that solitary figure stopping to turn at a sound that just might be a tender voice calling out in that dark night.

When I started writing again in my twenties, I initially turned to form, and Frost was there as a mentor.  I am happy to say that I have been acquainted with his work.



If You Want to Write:

Write a traditional sonnet whose stanzas are broken in a non-traditional way. Or write a “modern” sonnet that does not rhyme but follows the other directives of the form. Or experiment with tone – create a scene for your reader that evokes melancholy or terror or peace.


10 thoughts on “Poetry Mix Tape #3: Because the Night

  1. Actually I’d call it a terza rima poem which happens to have fourteen lines. In modern English terza rima it’s common to break the chain with a rhymed couplet. Here Frost cycles back to the A rhyme with an almost villanelle-ish ending.

    (I just realized recently that “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening” is an interlocking rubaiyat. Again Frost breaks the chain brilliantly.)

    • Thanks for the lesson in form. The consistency of the ten syllables per line still, for me, makes it resonate as a relineated sonnet, a form I knew as a young reader first encountering this poem when I wouldn’t have known terza rima. (Wikipedia does use it as a terza rima example.)

      • Thanks, Viv, again, for the lesson in formal verse. But part of this project is to hearken back to why poems first impacted me, and as a teenager, I did not know ANYthing about forms except the sonnet. So when this poem appeared to me as a different way to look at that form (different from the few poems I was taught in school), it was exciting. To write about it now in an intellectualized way would have been false to my memory of encountering it. And I am also a firm believer that you don’t need to completely understand the mechanics of a piece in order for it to move you. 🙂

  2. Frost was my first (favorite poet), as well. I love his poem, Birches:
    “When I see birches bend to left and right
    Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
    I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
    But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
    Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
    Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
    After a rain. They click upon themselves
    As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
    As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
    Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
    Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust–
    Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
    You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.”

    What brilliant, gorgeous imagery!

  3. Pingback: Prompts for Your Delectation: Friday Freeforall « Margo Roby: Wordgathering

  4. My first poetry love affair was with Frost as well. Even now, his lines come to my mind more than any others. I tried the broken sonnet (or whatever we are calling it) and found that I like the form a lot. Thanks for the prompt!

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