‘Meeting at Night’ by Robert Browning was originally featured in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, which was published in 1845. Here, the poet narrates how the lyrical voice sails across the sea to reach his beloved.
The poem, at the time of its publication, was divided into two sections, “day” and “night”, which were later separated into two different poems: ‘Parting at Morning’ and ‘Meeting at Night’. 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 lover. The lyrical voice portrays strong natural imagery and also uses nighttime and sea as important motifs. Moreover, the poem allows the reader to experiment with the point of view of the lyrical voice, showing his passions and emotions and how they affect his point of view.
Explore Meeting at Night
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.
Thereafter, 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 can meet in secret in the final line.
Firstly, 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. In this way, the speaker’s trials for the ‘Meeting at Night’ meets a rewarding and heartwarming end.
‘Meeting at Night’ by Robert Browning is a two stanza poem that 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. Moreover, Browning wrote this poem by using a loose Iambic tetrameter. However, there are a few variations in the poem. As an example, “black land” contains a spondee. The iambic-trochaic structure of the lines displays how tensed the lyrical voice of the poem is. Moreover, the use of anaphora creates tension in the first stanza.
There are several important themes in this poem. The most important theme of the poem is love. This passionate kind of love does not only involve the primal emotions of the body but also of the deepest ones generating from one’s heart. The secrecy between lovers is another important aspect to mention here. The “meeting” seems to be a tryst between two souls. When the body meets there is sound. While the meeting of souls, there is no sound. It is the silence that makes that bond stronger. Apart from that, the poet uses the themes of endurance, passion, optimism vs pessimism, and physical love in this poem.
Analysis of Meeting at Night
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
In the first stanza of ‘Meeting at Night’, the speaker begins by naming and describing details of the landscape. It is one that is ever-changing, as he is on his way to one particular place. The poem does not contain any place names, or specific features that might allow a reader to place the events in one particular town, country, or even specific time.
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.
In this way, the first two lines depict a journey. These 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.
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
The “little waves” further the description of the “grey sea” but they contrast as they leap in “fiery ringlets” and appear to be turbulent. One can notice the light imagery that is going to be persistent later in the poem.
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.
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
Then, in ‘Meeting at Night’, the lyrical voice appears strongly with the use of the first person singular “I”. He narrates how he was sailing and arrives at the shore, “As I gain the cove with pushing prow.” Also, the lyrical voice depicts how he stopped his boat on the coast in this line, “And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.”
In the last two lines, 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 can experience the world as the speaker does.
However, in the 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 to go in a particular direction. As more actions take place, the tone of the poem gets more dynamic and the images portrayed become stronger.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
At the beginning of the second stanza, the poet narrates a meeting between the lyrical voice and his beloved. The lyrical voice depicts how he disembarked from his boat and how he walked across the land in these lines, “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. The lyrical voice doesn’t say where his final destination is but, as he walks through the fields on a complicated journey, the farm seems to be his final destination. He goes across the sea, across the beach, and, finally, across the fields to get to where he wants to go.
Moreover, the land is illuminated in greater detail in these lines. 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.
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
“A tap at the pane” shows that the lyrical voice of ‘Meeting at Night’ was expected in that farm and a figure appears in these lines, “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, the “lighted match” is a symbol of passion and romance.
Approximately halfway through the second 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.
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
After this first encounter, a voice speaks, a voice that is “less loud”. This is the lyrical voice’s beloved one, the one he 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. Here, the poet writes, “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 romantically and powerfully 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 lover.
Moreover, in the last few lines 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, 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 can secretly spend time with the person he loves.
About Robert Browning
Robert Browning was born in 1812 and died in 1889. He was an English poet and playwright. 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 settings in his texts. His 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, Porphyria’s Lover, Fra Lippo Lippi, and My Last Duchess, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister 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.
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