This lesson includes a discussion and analysis of Frost's poem, designed for a 10th-grade English/Language Arts classroom. This should work for a 45-minute period, or an extended block.
Setting the Mood
Create a darkened atmosphere in your room by turning out at least some of the lights for when students come in. On either your multimedia projector or overhead projector, put a writing prompt for today:
"How do you feel at night? Use a story from your personal experience to describe the way that night makes you feel."
Put some music on while students file in -- something of a slow jazz piece, like "Harlem Nocturne." Students should just come in and start writing. Give them about 10 minutes to finish their thoughts.
Bring on the Poem
Once it looks like everyone is done, read Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night" out loud to your students. If you'd prefer, and you have the technological capability, play an audio interpretation of the poem from the JohnMitchell.org website. If you read it yourself, turn your musical background down, but let it continue to play in the background as you read.
Once you finish reading the poem, turn off the music, and ask students what they noticed about the poem. Focus on poetic devices and word play. Lead a discussion going from device to device throughout the poem. An "Acquainted with the Night Analysis" should include the following examples:
- Repetition -- the use of "I have" to begin lines 1-5, 7, and 14 to emphasize the personal nature of this poem to the speaker
- Repetition -- the use of "in rain" twice on line 2, to emphasize that the speaker seeks out the night to the point where he would endure discomfort, or that the discomfort might match his current mood
- Personification -- the clock "proclaiming" the time being neither wrong nor right
- Metaphor -- referring to figurative time rather than literal, pointing out that even the clock has had its moorings thrown off by the way things are on this night
- Theme -- The speaker is clearly in the throes of depression: his mood informs his interpretation of everything that he sees as he walks through these dreary streets, avoiding even the human contact of the night watchman, and taking a sad offense at the fact that the anonymous crier does not recognize his presence.
For more analysis, check out these quotes from Robert Frost's poems.
Rhyme Scheme and Meter
The poem is written in the same meter as a sonnet -- iambic pentameter. Also like a sonnet, it has 14 lines. The rhyme scheme is terza rima, or ABABCBCDCDADAA. Dante (of The Divine Comedy fame) developed this form, but it's much easier to write in Italian, because so many words end in vowel sounds. It is much less common in English, because of the difficulty in finding rhymes to fit. "Acquainted With the Night" is one of the most commonly cited examples of American terza rima.
Depending on the level of your students, have them identify the rhyme scheme on their own, and then talk about this particular form. You may want to pair this with other examples of terza rima and go into a more detailed discussion. If your class is new to meter, this is a fairly easy poem to scan with them -- to have them mark stressed and unstressed syllables and see the iambic pattern in each line.
Creativity is what can turn poetry from the dreaded topic into a love affair for some students with verse. You could have students write their own poem about the night, and make the rules about meter and rhyme as difficult or easy as you think they can handle. You could have students illustrate the poem, or work on a dramatic reading of their own of Frost's verse.