‘Wild nights – Wild nights!,’ (also known by the number 269) is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Dickinson has not chosen to conform the lines to a specific pattern of rhyme. Instead, each stanza stands alone. The first stanza of this piece is the only one that maintains any kind of pattern at all, and it is an unusual one, rhyming: ABBB. Dickinson did not give the second or third stanzas a rhyme scheme, but there are moments of half or slant rhyme, such as between the words “port” and “chart” in the third stanza.
That being said, the lines are not disparate. In fact, Dickinson has structured a great number of lines in dimeter. Not all, but many, contain two sets of two beats. The lines are also scattered with trochees, such as with the word “Futile” and iambs, such as with the word “Eden.” A trochee is a syllabic foot that contains two beats. The first of these is stressed and the second unstressed. An iamb works the same way, except the unstressed beat comes first. There are also moments in which both syllables of the foot are stressed, creating a spondee (“Wild nights”).
Wild nights - Wild nights! Emily DickinsonWild nights - Wild nights!Were I with theeWild nights should beOur luxury!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 -In thee!
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The poem begins with the speaker stating that she has had “Wild nights!” It is not clear in the text what exactly the nights refer to. They could be made up of spiritual moments she spent with God in which her passion for him grew. Or it could refer to sexual love between the speaker and a partner. Either way, she is seeking out more of these moments, hoping she and the intended listener can share in “luxury” together.
In the next two stanzas, the speaker uses nautical metaphors to describe the way she is navigating to her partner’s or to God’s love. She is in Eden and seeking out a way forward in which the two can remain together.
Metaphors and Images
Metaphor is one of the most important poetic techniques used in ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ Its resulting images appear throughout the poem, most prominently in relation to love and passion. In the first stanza, the reader will come across the phrase “Wild nights” repeated twice. It refers to a night of passion, whether that passion is of a sexual or spiritual nature is up for interpretation. But the emphasis added through the repetition of the phrase makes it one of the most important.
Additionally, there are moments in the third stanza where the speaker uses lines such as “heart in port” to speak on an embrace and “Rowing in Eden” as a representative for ultimate pleasure. The last two stanzas, in particular, are filled with images of, or associated with, the ocean and its navigation.
Context and Interpretations
As was common with Dickinson’s poetry there is more than one interpretation of the text. One can interpret the love and passion expressed by the speaker as aimed at a lover, or as a result of spiritual love for God. One should consider the fact that Dickinson came from a very strict, religious household. Therefore, if intended sexually, this piece (written in the early 1860s) would have been shocking.
Analysis of Wild nights – Wild nights
Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
In the first stanza of ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’, the speaker begins with the repetition of a two-word phrase that presents one of the vaguest images in the text. She uses “Wild nights” twice in a row, without further description or explanation. As will be the case throughout the text, this line has a double meaning. It could refer to a night of passionate love between the speaker and a partner, or to spiritual love with God. No matter if the line refers to a sexual or religious experience, the night was extremely noteworthy. Something happened to her that was powerful enough to be called “Wild.”
In the second line, she turns her attention to the intended listener. The passion slows down and she takes a moment to explain how this kind of “night” could become commonplace. She tells this listener that “Wild nights” would become their “luxury” if she was with them. Luxury is a word that can also have a dual meaning. It can refer to the ownership of something special, beyond the normal, or the fulfillment of a desire. Both definitions seem to apply here.
Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!
The second stanza of ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ is even vaguer than the first. She speaks on the “winds” and how they are “Futile.” The separation between “Futile” and the “winds” makes the word more impactful as if it is the only possible definition for the force. They are useless to the speaker, something has happened now that resulted in her no longer needing the wind to guide her.
This line, and those that follow, take the strictly emotional declaration from the abstract to a world more physical in nature. There are not characters or specific locations, but Dickinson is now considered with the relationship between love and the sea. She uses the sea and navigation via a “Compass” or “the chart” to define her new love. Just as she did not need the winds to blow her metaphorical ship through the sea, she is “Done with the Compass” and the “Chart.” These guiding tools were made for someone who was lost, which she is no longer.
Just as with the previous line, these phrases could apply to either romantic or spiritual love. Either way, she has found a “port,” or someone or something to embrace, that makes her feel safe.
Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
The third quatrain of ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ continues the nautical imagery. She places herself in a boat in “Eden,” the world created by God for Adam and Eve. She has reached Nirvana, at least in her mind. This is the place she would love to be above all others. The third line of the stanza makes it clear that she is not actually in Eden. It takes a reader back to the first stanza in which she describes what her life “Would” be like if she was with her lover.
The final two lines of the third stanza can be read as a wish. She is seeking out the possibility of “moor[ing]…In thee” tonight. The speaker is not with her object of affection, whether that be another person or God, but she certainly wants to be.