Emily Dickinson- Known for her unusual life of self-imposed seclusion, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) wrote poetry of power. She was one of the greatest poets of America. Born on 10 December, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson’s poetry was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town, which encouraged a Calvinist, orthodox, and conservative approach to Christianity.
Setting of Wild Nights-
The image of a wild night of passion is captured through the images sketched in the poem Wild Nights. It is a mental caricature of nights spent with the speaker’s lover and compares it with the beauty of heaven.
Poetic Devices in Wild Nights-
“Wild nights”- night of passionate love making
“luxury”- sexual gratification
“…the Compass …the Chart”- the plan made
“heart in port”- lover’s embrace
“Rowing in Eden”- the height of pleasure
The second and third stanza is filled with ocean images and nautical terms as metaphors for the ardent experience felt in love making.
Line 1-3- “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!”
Line 7-8- “Done with”
“Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
The typical rhyme scheme of Dickinson has been followed up in this poetry. The second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme and in the second stanza the rhyme is a good example of a near rhyme. Dickinson liberally plays with the grammatical rules in her poem; using punctuation marks with all the liberty. The abstract images are linked with ocean and other nautical terms to create an intrigue design of lovers’ passion. Her poetry is compact and language is forceful. Substantial meanings are compressed into very few words through her aphoristic style. This poem is written as three stanzas with four lines in each. In the first stanza, each line contains four syllables. In the second, Dickinson switches it up by making the second and third lines made up of five syllables while the others have four. The third stanza has syllables five, three, four, four.
Summary of Wild Nights-
Dickinson begins the poem with the repetitive mention of the condition of the night as wild which when spent with her loved one becomes a luxury of passionate night. Unlike her other poems which are known for its metaphysical conceit, Wild Nights is erotic to an extent. As we move on to the second stanza images begins to get obscure. Though at first, one might feel the night to be unplanned for, the lines of the second stanza give the reader the image of a planned event. However hard things might get at the ocean of life, one shall find its way back to the port as long as a heart waits for at the port. The compass of love and the chart of compassion shall guide him unto her. The third stanza is entirely abstract. The poetess mentions about the sea in Eden. She might be pointing at the beauty of love making through the image of heaven. To experience the zenith of pleasure she is ready to go all the way through.
Critical Analysis of Wild Nights-
The poem contains no narrative plot and no particular tale. Through three short quatrains of irregular punctuation, there is an extended expression of union with lover. The storm raging in the beginning can be considered to be the one that is present inside the speaker’s mind as well as the one outside. A passionate night of indulgence and privilege with the lover brings about the storm of strong emotions. The luxury at the end of the stanza can be understood as the sexual gratification and lust.
In the second stanza, the poet speaks about the stability of love found even in the direst times. A heart waiting in the port shines so bright like a guiding light to her love that he no longer needs material things like compass or charts to direct him back home to his beloved. The wind shall haul in futile to take them apart for their love shall transcend all the obstacles thrown in their path. The voyage shall come to an end as it unites with the heart at the port.
Dickinson makes use of ellipsis in the third stanza making it obscure and incomplete, in a way leaving it at reader’s liberty to indulge and add the missing pieces. A sharp compression of articulation can be felt there. At the height of sexual gratification one finds the pleasure equivalent to that found in the gardens of heaven and once experienced the urge to feel it to its entirety creeps in. The sexual passion finds its place in the love life of the lovers.
Central Idea of Wild Nights-
Wild Nights is composed under the subject of love and passionate love making involved in the process. The bond between two lovers and their passion for one another is explicitly portrayed in the poem.
Tone of Wild Nights-
The poem is an expression of love, passion, and sexual desire. Through the usage of nautical images the poetess gives the reader a touch of the fleeting emotions involved in love.
The poetess uses an affirmative poetic tone in first person. The frequent usage of the first person gives her poems an intimacy and immediacy of the discourse. The conveying mode is highly subjective and based upon emotional experiences. The emphasis on subjectivity rather than rationality helps the readers to relate to the poem emotionally to a personal level in a quiet, grand and ominous manner.
Conclusion- Unlike her other poems Dickinson focuses on passionate love in this poem rather than the theme of seclusion. The poem is hopeful and filled with vibrant positive images of love, the power of love and unison through the same. The speaker is not lost, but finds herself in love. The desire is so strong and voluptuous that it guides even a lost love at sea back to the heart at the port. Being with the person whom you love brings about unimaginable joy into life and one needs to completely give oneself out to such a feeling to be felt in its entirety.
|Wild nights! Wild nights! |
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Futile the winds
Rowing in Eden!
"Wild nights! Wild nights!" is a poem of unrestrained sexual passion and rapture. When the 1891 edition of Dickinson's poems was being prepared, Colonel Higginson wrote to his co-editor Mrs. Todd,
One poem only I dread a little to print--that wonderful 'Wild Nights,'--lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there. Has Miss Lavinia [Emily Dickinson's sister] any shrinking about it? You will understand & pardon my solicitude. Yet what a loss to omit it! Indeed it is not to be omitted.His comments reflect both the sexual narrowness of his times and the Myth of Emily Dickinson, Virgin Recluse.
This poem, ardent as it is, is hypothetical; it expresses wish or desire, "were I with you" (that is, if I were with you) and "might I but." Do you think it carries the implication that the speaker is remembering past pleasures and yearns for more?
Dickinson is undoubtedly using "luxury" in a meaning she found in her 1844 dictionary, one which is no longer used: lust, voluptuousness in the gratification of appetite. The "heart in port" is the lover's embrace. Yielding themselves to sexual passion, they have no need for compass or chart, which are used to get to a specific destination and are instruments of control and reason. The sea is a common image for passion; think of the romantic movies you've seen with the waves crashing or the famous scene with the lovers in the waves in From Here to Eternity. "Rowing" and "moor in thee" are, in this reading, sexual intercourse.
It has been suggested that the speaker is male. Other than the reference to "moor in thee," I can't see any basis for this suggestion. What do you think the sex of the speaker is? Do you see any reason why the speaker can't be female?
Another way of reading this poem is as the portrayal of a religious experience; in this interpretation, the lover is God. Christian mystics (people who communicate directly with God) often describe the joy they feel while communicating with God in language which modern psychoanalysts see as sexual; for example, mystics speak of rapture and ecstasy during their union with God, and they cry out to God, "stab me" or "pierce my soul, oh Lord." On the other hand, the number of feelings human beings can experience and the vocabulary with which they can express their experiences is limited; using the same language to describe a spiritual experience and a sexual experience does not necessarily mean that both experiences are sexual.
|Dickinson, Online overview|
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed," p. 2
"Safe in their alabaster chambers," p. 3
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p. 21
"It was not death, for I stood up," p. 22
|"A bird came down the walk," p. 13|
"I like to see it lap the miles," p. 27
"Pain has an element of blank," p. 31
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p. 44
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
|"After great pain a formal feeling comes" (handout)|
"The soul selects her own society" (handout)
"The heart asks pleasure first," p. 24
"I'll tell you how the sun rose," p. 11
"Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn," p. 36
|"Success is counted sweetest" (handout)|
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p. 11
"I felt a cleaving in my mind," p. 43
"My life closed twice before its close," p. 49
|"Wild nights! Wild nights!" p.5|
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms," p. 3
"Hope is the thing with feathers," p. 5
"I felt a funeral in my brain," p. 8
"I had been hungry all the years," p. 26
|"I started Early--took my Dog--" (handout) |
"My life had stood a loaded gun" (handout)
"Because I could not stop for Death," p. 35
"If you were coming in the fall," p. 23
Sample Midtern and Student Answers
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