Wild Nights! Wild Nights!

Published 09 Jun 2017

Emily Dickinson’s name still resonates among literary critics and psychological readers of today as a poet and lyricist of experiences of human life. The depth, intensity and emotional appeal in her poems give us second life yet again with our own experiences. Readers interested in psychology call her “Helpless agoraphobic trapped in her father’s house.”(Fuss, 2004, 55) She extricated from her poems what was inessential part of life and left behind trials of what is known as quality life with her experiences virtually true and pure in itself. Henry W. Wells explains another result of her concern with essence, “Life is simplified, explained, and reduced to its essence by interpreting the vast whole in relation to the minute particle.” (Academic Brooklyn Edu., 2005, Online Edition)

Wild Nights! Wild Nights! by Emily Dickinson is a poem of unrestricted sexual passion and the outburst of emotions that come with love. Though small yet the intensity and appeal this poem generated forced Colonel Higginson to comment. “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.” (Academic Brooklyn Edu., 2003, Online Edition) What he said was the world and life full of sexual narrowness, and the myth of virgin recluse generated around Emily Dickinson.

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The poem reflects wish or willingness but the meaning on the onset is dubious, as she said, “Were I with thee” (that is, if I were with you) and “might I but”. (Dickinson, 1924, Lines 2 & 11) In these lines she remembers her love life she longed for, as she had not got true love and passion of sexual feeling but she is hopeful that she would get in future. She turned the strong winds into futility and was hopeful of embracing her love giving crushing defeat to the strong winds. To yield to sexual passion, there is no need for any compass or chart: the instruments that show the directions during long voyages in the sea. The usage of compass and chart shows Emily’s beauty and depth of words. Compass and charts make travelers think and judge the way to their destination. It implies their reasoning. With the power of reason, they know their right way and control any danger and hindrance stopping their path, but to fruitfully culminate the desire for sexual passion, there is no need for any compass or chart and no need for any sound reasoning. You can find your own way by following the path of your inherent desire. Sea is sign of passion, and by merely following your passion, you can reach your destination for full enjoyment for love and sex.

She is remembering nights she termed as ‘Wild’ but that could be turned into fun filled night gaining all the experiences and richness of what is offered by the wild nights. She intended to say that nothing could stop her, neither the wildness of the nights nor the man’s wife she intends to meet. Wildness of nights is the restriction of society imposed on the lovers, but she is saying hopefully nothing could have stopped her from meeting her lover. While spending a recluse life, still a virgin disagreed with the society on the restrictions being imposed on them in the name of religion.

She sails her love and passion into the calm seas of Eden and dreams of fighting against the vagaries of societal restrictions. Storms are like various restrictions posing numerous hindrances in her path for the fulfillment of all her desires and what is luxury for males in the patriarchy society is a firmament of love and passion for females, but this flowering of passionate love she cannot advocate. Males with his lust and gratification of appetite bring the fairer sex to their subjugation and women are carried away to their designs.

For the people of 1857, luxury meant privilege to enjoy the sex, and this privilege was only for men and women were left undone and unsatisfied. “The sequence of seductiveness and withdrawal seems to be particularly enraging to male analysts. Desire is first aroused according to the normal procedures of female seduction by a woman posing herself as an object; but then desire is left unsatisfied by the hysteric’s insistence on her status as a subject,……in these circumstances, analysts say they feel undone, impotent or castrated, and their response is to master their anger and humiliation by turning the hysteric to object status as an item in sexual theory. (Orzeck & Weisbuch, 1996, 130) Emily Dickinson raises her emotional desperate on this complex dilemma of womanhood against male’s whimsical desires. From the sentence “Wild Nights should be / Our luxury” (Dickinson, 1924, Lines 3 & 4) is a true demand of Emily who also wants if Wild Night is a luxury for men then why not for women.

Emily Dickinson’s poems expressed the most aspiring experience of the puritan soul with a terribly beautiful intensity. In the puritan religion, women had to keep themselves subordinated to men but when she said he would sail into the seas of Eden, she is futuristic but here too there is an obscurity and duplicity in the meaning Emily wanted to claim. Eden is a garden where Eve was tempted so in the garden of temptation she sails her way into the calmness.

Emily’s poetry reflects the farthest range of American mind in the trackless region of spirit and within each line, there is not one but different layers of meaning. On one hand she is a symbol of cultural isolation whereas on the other hand she is also a legitimate child of her time. Broom and bonnet, run, stile and overcoat are an inseparable part of her emphatic solitude. In irregularities of speech rhythms, she mirrored the incongruities and frustrations of human experience. The awkwardness in her poetry became a metaphor of life in itself. Rowing in Eden, Ah, the Sea! (Dickinson, 1924, Lines 9 & 10) This stanza can be interpreted in many ways. Eden is temptation and Emily sailing from the Garden of Eden entered into sea. From within these lines, we can also feel she is trying to row in the Garden of Eden seeking God and then sails towards her ultimate destination. Here her destination is her God. In other words, though there are a number of temptations trying to obstruct her path but she is adamant and seeks true love overpowering all the temptations and hindrances and becomes a moor in the wilderness of the night.

“Wild Nights Wild Nights” is so short a poem but has enamored number of critics and writers till today. No one can thoroughly interpret her thoughts in the way she presented them. Several interpreters from Thomas Wentworth Higginson have failed to understand her despair, which is the most crucial part of her poem instead their emphasis was on the eroticism but if we look at the diction, imagery and organization of the poem it is not. At the onset it is very easy to read the poem but we are caught in the web of complexities when we begin to analyze each line. This poem of hers is an enigma of intricacies. Even Paul Farris could not resist in saying that “Perhaps no single poem of hers has misled a greater number of knowledgeable critics than her short despairing ejaculation, ‘Wild Night’!” (Faris, 1967, 269) It appears if we try to open the one door of her only stanza, it leads to other doors. But the central idea of her poem is without doubt despair as it is clear from its heading too “Wild Nights! Wild Nights! Wild nights are the symbol of desolation and despair but Emily here has emphasized about the wild nights as a time of luxury but woman find herself in despair even in this time of luxury, even if she wants she is devoid of this luxury. This wilderness is her outburst to catch this luxury filling emotional vacuity.


  • Academic Brooklyn Edu. 2003. Emily Dickson-Love. Retrieved on June 8, 2008
  • Academic Brooklyn Edu. 2005. Emily Dickson. Retrieved on June 8, 2008
  • Faris, P. 1967. Eroticism in Emily Dickinson’s “Wild Nights!” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 40(2): 269-274.
  • Fuss, D. 2004. The Sense of an Interior: Four Writers and the Rooms that Shaped Them. Routledge Publications.
  • Orzeck, m. & Weisbuch R. 1996. Dickinson and Audience. Michigan: University of Michigan
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