Darkness is usually associated with fear or the unknown. As children, we are afraid of the unknown under our bed that darkness brings, which, in turn, makes our imaginations run wild, creating monsters, ghosts, and of course, the occasional boogeyman. Even as adults, we still have an antipathy to drive at night or go walking alone in the darkness. So it only makes sense that darkness is used in all forms of art to symbolize some kind of fear, unknown thing or place, or a mournful state. Within the world of poetry, the contrast of light and dark can be seen in hundreds of poems, including “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” by Emily Dickinson and “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost where the darkness symbolizes something much deeper than just fear.
Both poems, “We grow accustomed to the Dark” and “Acquainted with the night” use the elements of Light and Dark as symbols within the speakers’ lives. In “Acquainted with the night” the speaker talks of darkness as his past experiences, most of them not good, and perhaps the depression that accompanied them. He says, “I have walked out in the rain and back in the rain,” meaning he has been through events, emotion, and sorrows through his life several times, but has managed to come through each one. He talks of how he has seen lugubrious moments when he says, “I have looked down the saddest city lane.”
However, he is either ashamed or just unwilling to elaborate on his experiences in the line, “I have passed by the watchman on his beat and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.” The speaker’s depression is so deep; he feels he has no hope or way of recovering. This is said in the line, “I have outwalked the furthest city light.” When the speaker gives descriptions of “the sound of feet” and “an interrupted cry,” it gives the reader a sense of blindness and furthering the speaker’s darkness and uncertainty of his life. The light that is shed by the “luminary clock” or the moon shows the prolonging of time that the speaker has to wait for something, possibly hope, to renew the “light” in his life.
The speaker in “We grow accustomed to the dark” talks of similar things. He talks of problems most face throughout life and difficult decisions that are unavoidable. The darkness in this poem, much like Robert Frost’s, does not talk of literal darkness, but emotional darkness of the speaker. However, he does not talk about dark as life in general. In the line “As when the Neighbor holds the Lamps to witness her Goodbye,” Dickinson saying that other people may hold “light”, meaning hope, faith, or happiness, but sometimes darkness is inevitable. He articulates that when good things are taken away from a person’s life, he must adjust his perception to the “darkness.”
This is said in the line “Then-fit our Visions to the Dark-. ” Then, when he talks of the moon having to sign, he says that not even the moon, usually the brightest light at night, cannot give him hope. He says that brave people will search for things but only fail. That people try to run away from the darkness within them and try to deny it. But in the line “And sometimes hit a Tree” shows that even when you run from a problem or try to deny it, there will be other problems you run into. However, this halt in moving on only makes that person stronger and wiser, learning from his mistakes. He says the only way to find oneself when there is no light or goodness is to move forward and adjust.
The two poems are structured very differently. While Emily Dickinson uses short phrases with long sentences, Robert Frost uses whole sentences that flow easily. In “We grow accustomed to the dark,” the short words or phrases clumped together add emphasis and description. These cut phrases symbolize inner conflict or struggle within the speaker. The line “As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp” is one of the few lines that does not have a dash at the end. This is because the light illuminates the darkness, destroying the struggle. Dickinson adds these descriptive phrases to give more imagery to the poem. But still, each phrase and stanza fits with the next, adding to the whole picture of a lightless midnight.
An example of the preponderance of dashes and their symbolizism is seen in the line “Or Star-come out-within-. ” This line is about the mental darkness with no solution or “light” and the amount of dashes adds emphasis to the hopelessness in the search for light. “Acquainted with the Night,” Frost uses sentences that flow lightly from one to another. This gives the poem an effect of movement. It is read like a story, making it easy for the reader to connect things within the poem. Frost also uses a very steady rhyming scheme to draw the poem all together as whole. The rhyming at the end that corresponds to the beginning brings the reader back to the start of the poem, similar to a circle and symbolizes the speaker’s recurring sadness.
Everyone experiences dark times in his life-some more than others-with what seems like a never ending battle. These two poems, with two different experiences of darkness, tell us that there have been people who went through the same darkness we may be going through. Their dominance through the seemingly maelstrom night gives us hope for a better day. Dickinson and Frost have shed some light into an increasingly darkened world.