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06 October 2011

“Good night,” because we must!

“Good night,” because we must!
How intricate the Dust!
I would go, to know –
Oh Incognito!

Saucy, saucy Seraph
To elude me so!
Father! they won't tell me!
Won't you tell them to?
                                                - F 97 1859)  114

I love the line, “How intricate the Dust!” Once we die and enter that long “Good night” the dust of our bodies mixes back with the soil, the atoms re-entering all the life and soil processes. But Dickinson is including, I think, more than the body’s decomposing bits. She is also factoring in the immortal soul. If she could only go “Incognito” she’d follow along to find out the secrets beyond the grave. Too bad those “saucy” little angels won’t provide information. As if a tattling child she calls on “Father” to make them tell. It’s a nice teasing tone, not at all awe-stricken by addressing the mighty I Am That I Am.
            While the poem is basically in trimeter, half of the lines are catalectic trimeter—that is, they lack a syllable at the end to make a complete foot. Dickinson mixes trochaic feet with iambic and the poem consequently has a snappy tappy sound that is in keeping with the teasing tone. In one of the nicest effects, the last two lines of the first stanza include four syllables with a long “o” sound (go, know, Oh, Incognito)—and that gives an aural sound of longing, just as the words do.  Internal rhymes, perfect and slant, also weave the first stanza together: night / must, intricate / Dust, go / know, Oh / Incognito. The last stanza features repeated words: Saucy, saucy; and “tell” used in the last two lines.


  1. ED’s “Good night” rages sweetly in prescience of Thomas’s “Good night”:

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    She rages because death obscures itself, because death’s curtain prevents knowing, because death's rude angels stay silent, because God refuses to help. Given her evidence, death is oblivion.

    She, at least, can fork lightning with her words before going gentle into that “good night”:

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.