Throughout this poem, readers may find themselves getting sucked into the intricate language Strand uses. He alludes to experiences without directly describing them, inspiring the reader to fill in the blanks and consider the most important images in ‘The Night, the Porch’ in more detail.
Explore The Night, the Porch
‘The Night, the Porch’ by Mark Strand is a thoughtful and complex poem that discusses the nature of human existence and nature.
The poem starts with contemplation of “nothing” and humanity’s interaction with the natural world. As it progresses, the language gets more complicated. The speaker discusses how “us,” meaning humanity, want to see ourselves as strangers. This element of mystery is expanded as they discuss how the world was not “written with us in mind.”
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘The Night, the Porch’ by Mark Strand is a twelve stanza poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse. This means that the poem does not make use of a specific rhymes scheme or metrical pattern. For example, the first four lines end with “heart,” “oneself,” “by,” and “wish,” none of which rhyme.
Throughout ‘The Night, the Porch’ makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines six and seven.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “sway” and “still” in line four as well as “few” and “falling” in line nine.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.”
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by. / Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.”
To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.
In the first lines of ‘The Night, the Porch,’ the poet begins by describing a state of mind in which one stares off into the distance, considering nothing. It’s this nothingness that the speaker says, “all of use will be swept into.” It’s a way of pondering death and the future. It’s interesting to confront and accept it, just as one bares themselves to “the wind.” This force, which represents something bigger than a single individual, is proof of something “ungraspable,” a force in the world (perhaps a figment of life itself).
In the next line, the speaker says, as though they are sentient, that trees can choose to “sway or be still” just as day or night “can be what they wish.” This imbues the world with an element of beauty, magic, and power that speaks to the nature of human existence. What purpose do human beings serve? And what are we looking for?
What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
For something whose appearance would be its vanishing—
In the next four lines, the speaker adds that “we,” human beings, desire “more than a season or weather.” Simple natural movements are not enough. We are looking for the unknown within us, to “be strangers” to ourselves if not to anyone else. This element of mystery and the unknown is powerful. It adds a power to one’s life and a place to start looking for purpose.
The speaker brings back the idea of waiting. Human beings are waiting for something that, when it appears, also vanishes. Its appearance is also its undoing.
The sound, say, of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf,
Tells us as much, and was never written with us in mind.
This “thing” the speaker is looking for, that they say all human beings seem to be waiting for, is described like the sound of “a few leaves falling.” The sound appearance and with its appearance signals its demise. It’s over as soon as it’s begun. It could be “leaves” or just one leaf, “or less.” This contemplative moment is one that many different readers are going to have different reactions to.
The “learning” that pops up in the following section tracks back to the idea of someone being a stranger to themselves, of containing a great deal to learn and understand. One can learn just as much from a sound as from themselves, as from “The book out there.” The final line reminds readers that the world was not crafted for human beings. We are a part of it, but it was not written “with us in mind.”
The tone is contemplative and relaxed. The poet uses phrases like, ‘the sound, say, of a….” He leans into the casual language of a normal conversation while also elevating the lines with complex poetic language.
The themes at work in this poem are the purpose of life and earth itself. The speaker emphasizes at the end of the poem that the world was not made, or the book was not written, “with us in mind.” This adds to the idea that one is always seeking out something and wanting to be a stranger to themselves.
The purpose is to evoke readers to consider the purpose of life and the role humanity has to play in the natural world. It’s likely to bring to mind different images for different readers.
The speaker is someone who has great insight into the nature of the human mind. They speak in generalities and use terms like “we” and “us” to speak for all of humankind.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Night, the Porch’ should also consider reading some other Mark Strand poems. For example:
- ‘Eating Poetry’ – a surrealistic depiction of one man’s obsessive poetry eating and a librarian’s reaction.
- ‘Keeping Things Whole’ – a complex and curious poem that describes the speaker’s interpreted invisibility within every facet of his life.