Meeting at Night by Robert Browning

‘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

Stanza One

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.

 

Stanza Two

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.

To read the first analysis, please click Previous or Page 1.

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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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