Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
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 – With Thee!
“Wild Nights” can be interpreted several different ways, but the most obvious interpretation is that the poem expresses love, passion, and sexual desire. The opening stanza certainly gives the modern reader the image of a passionate encounter between two lovers. The second and third stanzas are far more obscure, creating a metaphor for the ardent experience with ocean images and nautical terms. Emily Dickinson was masterful at being able to describe life’s mysteries in imaginative ways with an economy of words.
While Thomas Wentworth Higginson, one of Dickinson’s mentors, was preparing the first edition of her poems in 1890, he wrote to Mabel Loomis Todd, the co-editor: “One poem only I dread a little to print – that wonder ‘Wild Nights,’ – lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there. . . . Yet what a loss to omit it! Indeed it is not to be omitted.”
The use of the word “luxury” in the first stanza probably refers to an old use of the word, meaning lust and gratification. The phrase “heart in port” in the second stanza can be interpreted as a lover’s embrace. The marine terms used in each line of the second stanza create the nautical metaphor. They also create the feeling that control has been given up.
The third stanza completes the amorous, watery imagery. “Rowing in Eden” and “moor . . . in thee” can be interpreted as sexual passion. “Ah! The sea!”
Each stanza of the poem is a short quatrain, four lines. Each line has a dimetric rhythm, meaning that there are two poetic feet in each line. Most lines have iambic feet, such as in the first stanza. Each line in the first stanza has two groups of two syllables with the second syllable of each group being accented. In the second and third stanzas there is less regularity. Several lines start with a trochee, a two syllable group with the first syllable being accented. The line, “To a heart in port,” begins with a three syllable group, called an anapest. Despite the several irregularities, the poem flows smoothly and is easily recited.
The rhyme scheme in “Wild Nights” is typical of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. In each stanza the second and fourth lines rhyme, though in the second stanza the rhyme is a good example of a near rhyme.
With just a few words and a few lines, Emily Dickinson has captured the image of a wild night of passion.