R Robert Browning

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. 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.

Meeting at Night by Robert Browning

 

Summary

‘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.

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.

 

Meaning

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.

 

Structure

‘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.

 

Themes

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

Lines 1–2

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.

 

Lines 3–4

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.

 

Lines 5–6

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.

 

Lines 7–8

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.

 

Lines 9–10

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.

 

Lines 11–12

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.

 

Similar Poetry

The following poems are similar to the themes and subject matter of Browning’s ‘Meeting at Night’, one of the best love poems for her.

You can read about 10 Famous Short Love Poems and 10 of the Best I Miss You Poems here.

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Julieta Abella
About
Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.
  • 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.

  • 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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