‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ The energy and exultation with which Emily Dickinson opens this, one of her most passionately felt poems, encourages us to share the excitement and passion, or at least dares us to try to resist it. Although ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ is not perhaps the opening line of Emily Dickinson’s that most readily springs to readers’ minds, the poem is worthy of close analysis.
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 –
It’s always dangerous to attempt to paraphrase a poem, especially the distinctive style of an Emily Dickinson poem. But really, that opening stanza strikes us for its modern sound: it’s almost a chat-up line, albeit more elegantly put than most: ‘I tell you, if I was with you tonight, we’d have the wildest time, believe me. Know what I mean? Wink wink.’ And the sexual playfulness within the stanza does seem to be deliberate.
That middle stanza, however, complicates this initial analysis: these ‘wild nights’ would be the lovers’ ‘luxury’ because they would be together, a calm amidst the storm, and the winds would blow in vain, trying to blow them off course. But their hearts would be ‘in port’ and have no need for their compass or chart, since they would have sailed their boats to each other and have no need to travel further.
The final stanza then implies that rowing one’s boat across the sea would be paradise – ‘Eden’ – if the speaker got to spend but one night – tonight – with her beloved. Not for the first time when reading an Emily Dickinson poem, we are put in mind of a million song lyrics written since: Dickinson appears to have anticipated, or perhaps even influenced, the longing of the three-minute love song in which the singer yearns to be with his or her loved one for just one night of passion and love.
The image of ‘mooring’ within her beloved – an image that risks sexual suggestiveness and, in doing so, reversing the usual gender roles with the female speaker being the one to ‘enter’ the harbour of her loved one – is an equally passionate one with which to conclude this poem of passion. ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ shows what a very passionate poet Dickinson can be, and that it isn’t all death and morbid thoughts in her finest work. She is also a great poet of yearning and desire.