Meeting at Night by Robert Browning

Meeting at Night by Robert Browning was originally featured in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, which was published in 1845. However, the poem, at the time of its publication, was divided in two sections, “day” and “night”, that were later separated into two different poems: Parting at Morning and Meeting at Night.

Meeting at Night narrates how the lyrical voice sails across the sea to reach his/her beloved one.  The poem is written in two stanzas of six lines each. It has an ABCCBA rhyme scheme and a loose Iambic tetrameter. Love is the main theme in Meeting at Night. The poem constructs a sense of movement that imitates the lyrical voice’s longing to reunite with his/her lover. The lyrical voice portrays a strong natural imagery and also uses nighttime and sea as important motifs. Moreover, Meeting at Night allows the reader to experiment the point of view of the lyrical voice, showing his passions and emotions and how they affect his/her point of view.

This poem has been analysed twice by two different members of our team. To read the second interpretation, please scroll to the end of the article and click Next or Page 2


Meeting at Night Analysis

First Stanza

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.

The first stanza depicts a journey. The first lines set the scene and describe the landscape: “The grey sea and the long black land;/And the yellow half-moon large and low;”. The reference to a “long black land” suggests that it is nighttime and the “yellow half-moon” could be narrating either a sunrise or a sunset. The “little waves” further the description of the “grey sea” but they make a contrast as they leap in “fiery ringlets” and appear to be turbulent. Notice the light imagery that is going to be persistent later in the poem. Then, the lyrical voice appears strongly with the use of the first person singular “I”. He/she narrates how he/she was sailing and arrives to the shore (“As I gain the cove with pushing prow”). In addition, the lyrical voice depicts how he/she stopped his/her boat on the coast (“And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand”). In this first stanza, the imagery is mostly pastoral and picturesque, as the first lines vividly depict the landscape that the lyrical voice was sailing through. However, in the second part of the stanza, the lyrical voice focuses on finishing his voyage in order to go in a particular direction. Notice, as more actions take place, how the tone of the poem gets more dynamic and the images portrayed become stronger.


Second Stanza

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.

The second stanza narrates a meeting between the lyrical voice and his/her beloved one.  The lyrical voice depicts how he/she disembarked from his/her boat and how he/she walked across the land (“Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach; Three fields to cross till a farm appears”).  The description of the “warm sea-scented beach” relates to the first stanza, as it depicts a particular landscape. Notice how the lyrical voice doesn’t say where his/her final destination is but, as he walks through the fields in a complicated journey, the farm seems to be his/her final destination; the lyrical voice goes across the sea, across the beach, and, finally, across the fields in order to get to where he/she wants to go. “A tap at the pane” shows that the lyrical voice was expected in that farm and a figure appears (“the quick sharp scratch/And blue spurt of a lighted match”). These lines appear to have no movement; time stops as the lyrical voice and this unknown figure meet. Furthermore, notice the “lighted match” as a symbolism for passion and for romance. After this first encounter, a voice speaks, a voice that is “less loud”. This is the lyrical voice’s beloved one, the one he/she did all that harsh journey for.  The voice that has experienced a lot (“thro’ its joys and fears”) is dissimilar to the hearts which beat louder than words (“Than the two hearts beating each to each”). This represents the joy of the lovers of finally meeting and seeing each other. The final image of the poem shows the culmination of the journey in a romantic and powerful way, because love was at the end of the severe voyage. Moreover, the meeting at night suggests a transgression and the abrupt ending shows how the lyrical voice needs not to write but simply live the reunion with his/her lover.


About Robert Browning

Robert Browning was born in 1812 and died in 1889.  He was an English poet and playwright. Robert Browning’s proficiency in the dramatic monologue made him one of the most well known Victorian Poets. His poetry is ironic, humorous, and with demanding vocabulary and syntax. He also wrote harsh social commentary and very detailed historical setting in his texts. Robert Browning’s most famous works are Men and Women, The Ring and the Book, Dramatis Personae, Dramatic Lyrics, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, among others.  He is also known for his monologues (Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, Fra Lippo Lippi, and My Last Duchess, for example). In 1846, Robert Browning married Elizabeth Barrett, who was also a poet, and they became one of the most famous literary marriages of all time. They moved to Italy, a country that is frequently featured in Browning’s works.

To view the second interpretation of this poem, please click Next or Page 2.

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  • Avatar Alaa Raed says:

    What are the themes in ‘Night’ by Robert Browning?

    • Hello, thank you for your question!
      Before getting into a discussion of Browning’s ‘Meeting at Night’ it is important to gain a greater understanding of how Browning wrote. With this in mind one is more easily able to pull out recognizable or important themes.
      Today Browning is known primarily as a master of the dramatic monologue. Works categorized as dramatic monologues are spoken told from the mind of a single character who is not the poet. This person might interact with others, but it is only their perspective the reader receives. While ‘Meeting at Night’ is not exactly a dramatic monologue it does contain elements of this form in its single speaker and perspective.
      As was common with Browning’s work, there are a number of important themes within the work, ’Night’ or ‘Meeting at Night.’ One of the most prominent of these is that of man with, and against, the natural world. The speaker of this piece is on a journey through a landscape that does not always work in his favour. Getting to his lover in the farm-house is not an easy task. He must sail for an unknown distance through the sea, land on a beach and cross fields all under the cover of darkness. In this instance it seems as if the landscape, and nature at large, is not for or against the speaker’s quest. While he is not assisted in any way, he is also not unduly deterred.
      The next two themes that come to mind go hand in hand: love and perseverance. These are of course large and wide-ranging words. They could be applied to a number of different situations. In this case though, they truly are connected. If the speaker wants to continue his experiences with love, he must persevere through the night to arrive at his meeting. Love is what drives him, but perseverance keeps him going when the journey becomes more difficult.
      It is also interesting to note that the speaker is the one who is carrying the weight of perseverance. As the man, he is allowed to venture beyond the confines of his home and visit the woman he loves. The woman is stuck though. She is unable to physically act on her desire to spend more time with her lover, she must wait for him to come to her.

  • Avatar Rob Williamson says:

    I don’t think you really see the under current of this poem. Essentially it is about a rendezvous between two lovers but hidden between the lines are explicit sexual innuendo. Browning would not have been published if his emotions had been straight forward. Have in your mind first the idea of a sexual encounter, then look at some of the lines used and make up your own mind. ‘fiery ringlets’ and ‘As I gain the cove with pushing prow’ .and quench its speed i’ the slushy sand. And then finally the ‘blue spurt’ as a climax. Would you really have been able to relay the true meaning to this wonderful piece of verse in the year 1845. I don’t think so.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      A solid point. I think there are several lines with potential sexual connotations.

  • Avatar muzjik says:

    Thank you for the detailed analysis of this poem.
    However, the constant he/she is annoying. The author, Browning, is male and is writing in the first person. It is entirely reasonable and correct to just use the male pronouns while commenting on this poem.
    Additionally, in the time period Browning was writing or in prior times, the likelihood of a woman making a “harsh” night-time journey alone in a small boat to visit a loved-one was minuscule.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I agree that it probably wouldn’t have been inappropriate to assume the narrative voice is that of the poet. However as a poet myself I have written from a first person perspective without the narrative being my own.

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