Emily Dickinson and her poem Wild Nights both have one thing in common; They both stand out in a league of commons. Wild Nights – Wild Nights! is one such poem that was too controversial for its time. We’ll discuss why and what are the possible meanings of Emily Dickinson’s poems. But before, a few things about the poet.
Emily Dickinson was an American poet, born in Amherst, Massachusetts. Almost all of her poems were different from her contemporary poets’. Her unusual use of dashes and pauses made the poems stand out. Wild Nights is one such poem, but it is also known for its sexual implications, something that was uncommon at the time it was written.
Here’s the complete analysis of Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson, along with its meaning, literary devices, and expressive beauty. We also try to look at the reason what Dickinson meant in this poem.
Wild night – Wild nights!
Wild nights - Wild nights! Were I with thee Wild nights should be Our 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!
Meaning of Emily Dickinson’s Wild Nights!
The poem is a short one, but it is explosive. While short and simple, the content it delivers holds a lot of weight. While it is hard for anyone to pinpoint the exact meaning of the poem, the meaning that Dickinson intended, we can look at some possibilities.
The most agreed-upon meaning of the poem is the desire of a woman to be with her lover. The fierce desire to be with someone she loves is evident in the way the lines are delivered in the poem. The stress Dickinson puts at the beginning of her poem about the wild nights shows that these nights are of extreme importance to her.
In these wild nights, she pursues the company of a loved one. She indicates this by saying that these wild nights can be turned into their luxury. Luxury, in Dickinson’s time, was used to convey sexual pleasure. A very brave choice of words here because anything resembling erotica was frowned upon.
In the net stanza, the metaphors kick in. The poet explains how the wild nights will turn into luxury. She compares her state of mind to a boat stranded in a stormy sea. She says that these moving winds cannot do any harm, for her ship is in the port. Emily says that her emotions are safe and secure in the company of the loved one. She doesn’t need the compass; any direction or chart; where she is in this sea.
The final stanza is just the confession of her desire, unabashedly. She knows that this confession will raise some brows and she, being a Christian, knew how to justify it. She says that her luxury is like rowing in Eden, the paradise where Adam and Eve lived. They loved without any shame and that is how Emily justifies the passion for her lover. She then concludes the poem by using very sexual innuendo. “Might I but moor – tonight – In thee”. This line, no matter how you try and interpret, implies sexual, sensual love. All she wants in this tumultuous sea is just the respite on being with the one her heart craves for.
The Christian meaning of Emily Dickinson’s Wild Nights
As much as one can relate this poem to being an expression of sexual desires, there are equally compelling aspects of the poem that makes it a dedication to the love of God. Here is how replacing the lover with God changes the poem completely.
Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Let’s make the wild nights the time when the faith is shaken when you need the warmth of God badly. Then the poet’s desire to seek the comfort of God’s love can be seen in the second line. She wants to be with God’s love and unrelenting faith. Faith in God can make these difficult nights comfortable. She conveys this message by personifying God as a human lover.
Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!
Here you can see how the stanza indicates the power and desire of a religious figure to help the poet with her life. To a heart in port refers to the soul of a person reaching the shores, shores being the care of God. Winds are the events of life that break the person emotionally, the struggles that make a person question their faith.
But once the heart reaches the port, it does not need any compass or chart. This analogy puts the person and the soul as a boat in a massive sea. Once you accept God, you don’t need to find anything else in your life. You already have reached the destination.
Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
It is a no-brainer that the word Eden is a direct reference to paradise in Christianity. Here the poet is fantasizing about being in the coveted Eden, rowing her boat in the seas of Eden. But again, as we have seen in the first quatrain, she is hoping for all this to happen, but she hasn’t reached Eden. Finally, in the last two lines, she says that she wishes to moor this night with her lover. Moor again is a metaphor that indicates her presentation as a boat and she is looking for a harbor. She wants to be with God, her lover.
Emily Dickinson’s dependence on God.
The confusion between the poem either being an expression of sexual passion and rapture or being the divine devotion to God in the form of unconventional love is natural since the poem sits on the fence. And there are equally compelling arguments to put the poem on both sides. But what was Dickinson’s psychology and how it could have affected the poem’s meaning?
From her biography, we know that Dickinson had a tough life. She was met with a series of deaths that scarred her and deeply affected her psyche. She did not have many friends and most of her adult life was spent in her father’s house. Both of these affected her mental makeup. She was a religious person and her faith was also very influential in her works.
The argument that supports the poem being a letter to God is that since she saw so many deaths, her faith in God and His motives were questioned by her on some “wild nights”. She was traumatized when her second cousin, Sophia, died from typhus. Recalling that, Dickinson wrote “It seemed to me I should die too if I could not be permitted to watch over her or even look at her face”
Deaths and a secluded life made Dickinson question her faith and maybe the poem was a way to regain her faith in God. Maybe she wanted to convince herself (since she never wanted her poems to be published) that in difficulties, she still looks for God.
Emily Dickinson’s need for love
Just like the religious part of the poem can be understood, the need for love can also be understood after seeing Dickinson’s history. Seeing the deaths of loved ones is taxing for a person. Emily also lacked many friends. She mostly found comfort in talking to one or two people. And she never married.
Maybe deep inside, she yearned for love, she wanted a partner. It is entirely plausible that since she was brought up as a Christian, she considered desiring “luxury” (which in her time meant sexual pleasure) as taboo. And this poem was just to vent that feeling, expressing it in words? It is known that she told her sister to burn all her poems. So it was sort of like her diary where she could write whatever she felt.
Maybe she wanted the comfort of a lover, the ecstasy of sexual gratification from someone? Since she could not have that, she just wanted to express this desire. In her poem, you can see the implication of “would have”, she thinks about how things could have been if she had a lover. The use of words such as “luxury” or the phrase “Moor tonight in thee” favors the argument that the poem’s sexual annotation is the correct one.
Metaphors of Wild Nights
Metaphors are something you’ll always find profusely in Emily Dickinson’s Wild Nights. She has always used metaphors liberally in all her poems. Wild Nights is a metaphor that represents difficult or testing times. To a Heart in Port is another metaphor that represents a person finding a caring lover. Futile – the winds also represent difficulties and their inability to do anything when one has found love. Similarly, “Rowing in Eden” and “Might I but moor” are metaphors.
The rhyming scheme
The rhyming scheme of the poem is eccentric. The first stanza is a-b-b-b, the second stanza is a-b-c-d and the third one has a scheme of a-b-c-b. Dickinson is known for her eccentric rhyming scheme but this one is very distinct. Maybe she kept this to convey the wildness of her thoughts.