Many argue that humans fear the dark for the same reason we fear death; it contains the unknown. Not knowing the possible challenges we face is, for some, even worse than being sure of the ones we do. Thus, darkness and night, as well as the reactions of people in relation to them, have been popular themes of poems and other written works throughout the years. Two such works: “We grow accustomed to the Dark” by Emily Dickinson and “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost examine humans’ responses to the night that surrounds them. While Dickinson’s poem uses darkness to reflect an unfamiliar or unfortunate situation a person might face, Frost’s vision of night is that of an environment of isolation; both poems, however, use night as an obstacle to whoever must face it.
For Dickinson, this obstacle is uncertainty, or unfamiliarity of a situation. The speaker does not analyze one event, but responds to the behavior of people in general, using an objective observational tone. “We grow accustomed to the Dark–” the first line, is an excellent example of this attitude that the speaker takes. She is commenting on the behavior of people and then proceeds to examine details of the night that back up her point. These details are mostly descriptions of people’s reactions, using diction that paints vivid images of various movements and actions. When describing people’s behavior, Dickinson uses phrases such as “we uncertain step” and “grope a little” to give a physical visual but also a metaphorical representation of how people respond to unfamiliar situations awkwardly and uncertainly at first, but then inevitably come to adjust to them the way our eyes adjust to the dark.
The speaker in Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night,” however, has a different attitude. While darkness is still used as an obstacle challenging the narrator, rather than a mere unfamiliar situation, the darkness here is a metaphor for the speaker’s feeling of complete isolation in a sometimes dangerous world. Rather than commenting on behalf of all people, the speaker refers only to what he has experienced personally with respect to the night. The imagery is much more visual than “We grow accustomed to the Dark–” describing sights the speaker specifically takes in. When he refers to “the furthest city light,” the speaker is saying he walked to the outskirts of the city, where civilization is more spread out, but he is at the same time commenting that he has been to places that isolated him, where his only acquaintance was the night in which he was submerged.
Both poets address the night as an obstacle in this fashion, making its existence almost an event in and of itself, but Dickinson’s attitude toward it seems much more confidant in the capabilities of man. Frost, on the other hand, uses night to represent the painful experiences the speaker has had, looking back at them with the attitude of a grizzled war veteran. Both ideas, however, offer some amount of solace. Neither poem paints the dark as an obstacle that is impossible to overcome, no matter how much we fear it.