‘Meeting at Night’ by Robert Browning is a two stanza poem which is separated into sets of six lines, or sestets. The poem is framed out and contained by a consistent and structured rhyming pattern of abccba deffed.
A reader should also take note of the way the poem builds in tension and momentum. It is clear from the first lines the narrative is building to a climax. The “Meeting” referenced in the title does not occur until the final line. All previous lines were details used to emphasize the importance of the meeting to the traveling speaker. By the time he arrives at his destination, a reader should be relieved the drama is over. One should also feel pleased that the speaker was rewarded for his efforts.
Summary of Meeting at Night
‘Meeting at Night’ by Robert Browning describes a journey undertaken by the speaker to meet with the person he loves at night outside their farmhouse.
The poem begins with the speaker on a boat, sailing through the dark waters of the sea. It is unclear at first if there is a point to his travels or if he is just moving aimlessly through the landscape. He takes note of the moon, which is only half-full. This provides him with just enough light to see the land in the distance. It is not enough for him to make out any distinct features. This does not bother the speaker—making it likely he has taken this trip before.
He makes it to land and is welcomed by the “slushy sand” in which he leaves his boat. He makes his way across fields until a farmhouse is visible in the distance. Upon reaching its window he taps on the glass and is rewarded with the spark of a match and the voice of his lover. The two are able to meet in secret in the final line.
Analysis of Meeting at Night
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by naming and describing details of the landscape. It is one which is ever-changing, as he is on his way to one particular place. The poem does not contain any place names, or specific features which might allow a reader to place the events in one particular town, country, or even specific time period.
The sea the speaker is traveling on is described as being “grey.” There is not enough light to show any of its deeper blues and greens. This one word immediately informs a reader that the events are taking place at night. Additionally, he points out the land which is “long” and “black.” Once more the lack of details makes it clear he is sailing at night without any significant light to guide him.
The only light he does have comes from the “half-moon” in the sky. It is “yellow” and “low,” providing him with the bare minimum of illumination. The whole seascape comes alive as the speaker describes the waves as “leap[ing]” around his craft. They are not used to being disturbed at this time of night. The waves are spoken of as if they have been roused from sleep. The light from the moon adds to the atmosphere as individual “ringlets” of water are lit by its glow.
In the last two lines of this section the speaker makes it to the “black land” that was previously spotted in the distance. It is in a “cove” he has landed and, without help, he pushes his boat onto the “slushy sand.” A reader should take note of the use of alliteration in these two lines.
Browning repeats the “p’ sound with “pushing prow” and the ’s’ sound with “slushy sand.” These choices add to the overall feeling of the scene and increase a reader’s ability to understand what exactly is going on. One is able to experience the world as the speaker does.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
In the second stanza the land is illuminated in greater detail. As the speaker moves from his craft to the shore he takes in the “mile of warm sea-scented beach.” In contrast to the relative coldness of the night, the sand is a comforting addition. It seems to welcome him to shore. The land was waiting for him to appear.
The speaker is crossing the landscape which is unknown to the reader, but well-known to him. He is aware that there are “Three fields” to get through before “a farm appears.” This is his destination. As the poem progresses the narrative description takes on a more clandestine feeling. It is becoming evident that he is not supposed to be here, and is breaking someone’s rule by coming to the farm at night.
Approximately halfway through this stanza the speaker makes it to the farmhouse where he “tap[s]” on a “pane” of window glass. Immediately following this light sound, there is the “sharp[er]” sound of a match being lit. The movement of the blue flame appears quickly in the speaker’s line of sight. Events are occurring rapidly now as a voice follows, quietly, after the match is lit. This new character is speaking so gently that they are outdone by the previous sound of the match.
Although the speaker is not able to hear his lover well, but he does detect “joys and fears.” Within the sound of the voice he hears real emotions that reflect his own. Finally, in the last line, the two are together. The speaker has made his way to the “Meeting” referenced in the title and is able to secretly spend time with the person he loves.