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Carolyn Kizer's "Night Sounds"

Updated on December 26, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Carolyn Kizer

Source

Introduction and Text of "Night Sounds"

The speaker in Carolyn Kizer's "Night Sounds" is a woman who lives alone. She has become particularly sensitive to sounds, especially at night. Those sounds are troubling as they keep her from falling asleep.

"Night Sounds" consists of five unrimed versagraphs; the first three have four lines each, and the remaining two have five lines each.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Night Sounds

The moonlight on my bed keeps me awake;
Living alone now, aware of the voices of evening,
A child weeping at nightmares, the faint love-cries of a woman,
Everything tinged by terror or nostalgia.

No heavy, impassive back to nudge with one foot
While coaxing, "Wake up and hold me,"
When the moon's creamy beauty is transformed
Into a map of impersonal desolation.

But, restless in this mock dawn of moonlight.
That so chills the spirit, I alter our history:
You were never able to lie quite peacefully at my side,
Not the night through. Always withholding something.

Awake before morning, restless and uneasy,
Trying not to disturb me, you would leave my bed
While I lay there rigidly, feigning sleep.
Still - the night was nearly over, the light not as cold
As a full cup of moonlight.

And there were the lovely times when, to the skies' cold No
You cried to me, Yes! Impaled me with affirmation.
Now, when I call out in fear, not in love, there is no answer.
Nothing speaks in the dark but the distant voices,
A child with the moon on his face, a dog's hollow cadence.

Reading of Kizer's "Night Sounds"

Commentary

First Versagraph: Awake Because of Moonlight

The moonlight on my bed keeps me awake;
Living alone now, aware of the voices of evening,
A child weeping at nightmares, the faint love-cries of a woman,
Everything tinged by terror or nostalgia.

In the first versagraph, the speaker asserts that the moonlight is keeping her awake. She says she is living alone now, and then catalogues the sounds that are keeping her awake also: she calls them "voices of evening." She hears a child "weeping at nightmares" and the sounds of a woman making love. She expresses her mixed emotion by claiming, "Everything [is] tinged by terror or nostalgia."

Second Versagraph: No Man in Her Bed

No heavy, impassive back to nudge with one foot
While coaxing, "Wake up and hold me,"
When the moon's creamy beauty is transformed
Into a map of impersonal desolation.

The second versagraph, the speaker asserts that there is no man in her bed now. She cannot nudge him awake and "coax" him to hold her. She notices that the "the moon's creamy beauty is transformed / Into a map of impersonal desolation."

While moonlight may be romantic for lovers, its pale light can seem cold and isolating to someone alone. Although the speaker does not make clear why she is alone, the reader might suspect it is because of a divorce because the speaker seems bitter. She refers to her lack of a man as, "No heavy, impassive back to nudge." Not exactly a description of a loving relationship.

Third Versagraph: Moonlight Restlessness

But, restless in this mock dawn of moonlight.
That so chills the spirit, I alter our history:
You were never able to lie quite peacefully at my side,
Not the night through. Always withholding something.

The speaker avers that she is restless, and the moonlight that keeps her awake by "chill[ing] [her] spirit" also makes her change the reality of her life with her former mate. As she begins to address him, she reminds him that he was "never able to lie quite peacefully at [her] side." He was always restless, getting up before morning, and she accuses him of "withholding something."

Fourth Versagraph: The Restless Former Mate

Awake before morning, restless and uneasy,
Trying not to disturb me, you would leave my bed
While I lay there rigidly, feigning sleep.
Still - the night was nearly over, the light not as cold
As a full cup of moonlight.

The speaker continues addressing her absent former mate, reminding him again about his restlessness. He would get out of bed, "trying not to disturb" her, but she was just lying there "feigning sleep." The relationship seems to be based on appearances, instead of reality.

And even though the speaker is reminding her former mate of these things, she admits that with the night "nearly over, the light not as cold / As a full cup of moonlight." The light that the mate turned on was not as cold as the natural light of the moon, because it was almost morning.

Fifth Versagraph: Back When Things Were Warm

And there were the lovely times when, to the skies' cold No
You cried to me, Yes! Impaled me with affirmation.
Now, when I call out in fear, not in love, there is no answer.
Nothing speaks in the dark but the distant voices,
A child with the moon on his face, a dog's hollow cadence.

In the final versagraph, the speaker seems suddenly overcome by thinking about the "lovely times" when their relationship was warm and loving, times when he "Impaled [her] with affirmation." But such affirmation did not remain, because now she finds herself calling out "in fear, not in love," and of course, because she is alone, "there is no answer." Now she hears only "distant voices," not the voice of a beloved in her home, but voices of far off children and dogs.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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