Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”
The silence of night still catches me off guard. Distractions and detours during the day come in abundance, providing just enough noise and clamor to cage my wandering mind. But at night, I’m left to dance alone with empty stillness. And maybe it’s because of this uninvited quiet that night has become both my best friend and my worst enemy.
I am an active member of the Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I am gay. Some may contend, labeling this an oxymoron—a Mormon certainly can’t be a homosexual, nor can a homosexual be a member of Christ’s church! Which is exactly where I find myself; I sit beneath the crushing weight of both truths, performing a balancing act deemed impossible. But nobody does a more respectable job of reminding me of the daunting and turbulent journey before me than the unsettling still of night.
“I have been one acquainted with the night” . In Robert Frost’s poignant sonnet, he paints a dreary picture of a man walking the streets of a desolate city by night, describing his lonely travails up the streets of heartache and his encounters with misery. Our elementary school textbooks taught us what night is and how it perpetually occurs: the earth turns its back to the sun, leaving us with a world devoid of light and warmth. But anyone “acquainted with the night,” anyone who has “outwalked the furthest city light” knows it’s much more than merely an absence of light [1, 3].
Upon my first reading of Frost’s heartbreaking poem, I quickly drew comparisons to my own life. The speaker faces a night of solemnity, his words heavy with anguish and strained hope. I easily connected with the speaker and his walk; like this character in the poem, much of my journey has been endured alone—much of my journey of self-discovery and acceptance must be done alone. Isolation invites introspection, and introspection incites understanding. The speaker of the poem also recognizes his responsibility to endure his walk with night without the aid of another; when he “passed by the watchman on his beat” the speaker “dropped [his] eyes, unwilling to explain” [5-6].
His lack of willingness “to explain” might suggest he is refusing support, counsel, even a friend, but in my experience, this period of personal struggle is necessary for refinement and growth. If we were to exert the constant energy required to keep everyone involved and contributing, we just might unravel.
For anyone enduring the struggle of same-sex attraction, depression, addiction, or just loneliness, there resides within the heart the hope that there will come a day when the sun will rise, the rain will subside, and the warmth of day will be restored once again. Yet, I often fear my life on Earth will be always be accompanied with heartache, and like the speaker relates of his own experience, I fear I, too, might walk “out in rain – and back in rain.” The mercilessly cold rain of night never lifts, but soaks him throughout his entire journey.
Each time I sat down to explain to a friend, a parent, a stranger what it was I faced in life, I rested on a false hope that they could make everything okay. I clumsily assumed that the more people who knew me, all of me, the less freight I would have to bear alone. I was mostly wrong. However supportive, however loving my listener was, I knew that the only thing that I had accomplished was filling someone else with worry and sorrow.
There comes in all of our darkest nights a glimmer of hope that echoes throughout the streets, suggesting someone has come to our rescue, but more often than not, after we’ve stopped to listen and stood still, we realize that the “interrupted cry” does not yell to “call me back or say good-bye,” but calls out in their own necessity [7-10]. We all have our separate burdens to bear and mountains to climb.
Attending a university such as Brigham Young University also presents its fair share of complex frustrations. Students here, and to no fault of their own, receive the idea of homosexuality like the bitterest of pills. Jagged little pills, maybe. They hold preconceived notions that all gays are foul, loathsome creatures of the flesh who engage in despicable acts of sin.
What they don’t realize is that their own campus is populated by a startling number of homosexuals who believe and adhere to the standards laid out by the Church. Like me, there are many men and women of faith and value who bear this unthinkable burden and must resort to greeting each night in the same manner the speaker of the poem does: by “peering down the saddest city lane” .
This “peering” down lanes of others, viewing their personal plights, is an inevitable comparison drawn by Mormon homosexuals. Who has overcome? Who stands conqueror? Who are the fallen, scattered upon the hard city streets? Who still stalks the empty, wet lanes, calling out into the night? And with whom do I belong? The emptiness of night ignites a fury of comparisons, of peering and pondering, of questions begging to be answered.
Ambiguity is one of my surest companions. In night’s deep desolation, there is so much that teeters between the known and unknown, the good and the bad, and of most prominence, the right and the wrong. Frost further expounds upon the unknowns, the gray matter, when the speaker catches sight of “one luminary clock against the sky” sitting “still at an unearthly height” [11-12]. He sees the clock and notes how it “proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right” .
As I have explored the world around me and sought after what I know to be good, what I feel to be right, I have encountered countless unknowns. I have even embraced some of these unknowns and acted upon them as something of an experiment, a test of my own commitment to endure. As the final line of the first stanza reads, “I have outwalked the furthest city light,” the speaker too has found himself seeking the darkest ends of the city . What purpose would there to “outwalk” the city’s light? Possibly, he was seeking something new, something strange, an answer, a question, an opportunity to see something different, an opportunity to make a mistake, or maybe a road leading to foreign place. Oftentimes, the darkest corners of life have the strongest lure because we all bear innate feelings of curiosity. Curiosity could kill the cat, to be sure, but it might also set it free.
He further expounds upon this notion in the next line, a line we’ve already examined: “I have looked down the saddest city lane” . We’ve all done it—a car sits mangled on the side of the highway, a team of ambulances and police cars on every side, disaster before us, only seconds old. And yet, we actually look, searching the “saddest city lane,” hoping to catch a glimpse of someone else’s tragedy. It may as well be our own.
Night’s percussive rain and moaning winds become the soundtrack to my perfect moments of solemnity. I push on knowing the morning does indeed bring sunlight, again bathing me in temporary warmth and rejuvenation. But day is fleeting. Dusk always looms.
I can’t say for certain what my future holds, and I don’t yet know what to make of my present, but I do know I can count on my colorless nights. I have walked their vacant streets, searched their abandoned alleys, and I have dwelt in solitary silence beneath their perfect shadows.