Never the Time and the Place by Robert Browning explores the impossibility of being with a lover at the right time and in the right place. He suggests that one of the three are always missing. It could be that it is perfect weather and in a beautiful location, but your lover is elsewhere. Or by contrast, you could be with your lover but the wind is too loud to hear each other. Browning continues in this fashion, pointing out the impossibilities of ideal love.
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Never the Time and the Place by Robert Browning begins with fashioning an environment in which everything seems perfect. Yet, what is lacking is Browning’s lover, not actually being present at the beautiful scene. Browning then imagines a dream in which he and his lover are together, but realises the setting is ‘bleak’ and the sound from the wind outside is too loud to hear each other. The poem continues in this fashion, with Browning revealing that nothing ever seems perfect in love. After he wakes up from his fantasy, Browning then discusses the idea that he is firmly in the ‘Past’, a moment in which he was with his lover, revealing that in the ‘future’ he is worried about ever being with her again. Browning is suggesting that one of the core ideas he has stated – place, time, or presence of lover – always fall short.
You can read the full poem here.
Browning writes Never the Time and the Place in a single stanza of 22 lines. The continuous structure links with Browning’s notion that this problem of one thing always falling short is a constant issue, with the poet passing through several different instances within the short poem.
The first five lines of the poem are written with a consistent meter, with the first, third and fifth lines measuring 6 syllables, while the intersecting second and fourth lines measure 7. This creates a harmonious and balanced rhythm as the poem progresses, reflecting the halcyon atmosphere that Browning incites within these early lines. Yet, by then changing the metrical form, Browning disrupts the rest of the poem, sending Never the Time and the Place along a differing path. The disrupted meter within the poem reflects Browning’s idea that things never run perfectly, there is always something that is slightly off, furthering his undermining of idyllic forms of love.
Never the Time and the Place Analysis
Never the time and the placeAnd the loved one all together!This path—how soft to pace!This May—what magic weather!Where is the loved one’s face?
These early lines of the poem incite an atmosphere of perfect. Indeed, the location, the ‘path’ that Browning is standing upon is ‘soft to pace!’, the adjective ‘soft’ defining the quality of the road, with the exclamative ‘pace!’ suggesting the excitement Browning feels at being in such a perfect location. Not only this, but Browning also depicts the ‘magic weather!’ of ‘May’, with the environment which he is standing within being a similar quality of excellence.
Yet, despite Browning being in beautiful conditions within the perfect place, he states ‘where is the loved one’s face?’, unsure where his lover is. ‘Time’ and ‘Place’ are both ideal, yet his lover is not there with him to see it. These first 5 lines create the core dialogue of the poem, with this problem of one of the three ideals that Browning wants always lacking in each example he gives.
The poem begins with the definite ‘Never’, with Browning being certain that this is always going to be the case. Indeed, he never experiences ‘the time and the place and the loved on all together’, only aspects of these three ideals. The enjambment across this first sentence creates a separation of the three core ideals, with ‘time and the place’ being situated on the first line, and ‘the loved one’ being segregated by a line break, situated on the second line. These first two lines define Browning’s argument, ‘together!’ being framed as an exclamative to further his despair.
The focus on caesura, in the form of hypens, within the third and fourth line of the poem can be understood as a spatial representation of the physical distance between Browning and his lover. While the hyphens actively create a metrical break, this absence can be understood as the distance between the poet and his lover, she being elsewhere and lost from the ideal narrative moment in these opening lines.
In a dream that loved one’s face meets mine,But the house is narrow, the place is bleakWhere, outside, rain and wind combineWith a furtive ear, if I strive to speak,With a hostile eye at my flushing cheek,With a malice that marks each word, each sign!
Browning retreats into a dream’, in which he finally sees his lover, with the moment in which the ’loved one’s face meets mine’ being blissful for the poet. Yet, although he now has a connection with his lover, be it only in a dream, the location in which they are situated is far from ideal. The ‘house is narrow’, the constrictive structure embedding a sense of claustrophobia at this point in the poem. This is furthered by the ‘bleak’ depiction of the location, the ‘place’ being far from perfect.
The use of caesura within ‘Where, out, rain’ further the sense of disappointment and disconnected Browning feels. Although he is with his lover, the other aspects ‘Place’ and ‘Time’ have failed him, the metrical disruption being a representation of his emotional sorrow at this betrayal of the weather. This betrayal is so great, the ‘rain and wind combine’ to such a cacophony of sound that Browning ‘strive[s] to speak’ but cannot for the noise. He cannot even communicate with his lover, despite being so close.
Browning curses the disruptive ‘time’ and ‘place’ of his dream, ‘each sign!’ being emphasised by the use of an exclamative, the poet rallying against his misfortune.
O enemy sly and serpentine,Uncoil thee from the waking man!Do I hold the PastThus firm and fastYet doubt if the Future hold I can?This path so soft to pace shall leadThro’ the magic of May to herself indeed!Or narrow if needs the house must be,Outside are the storms and strangers: weOh, close, safe, warm sleep I and she,—I and she!
Browning reveals that his notion of perfection stems from ‘hold[ing] the past’, his expectations stemming from a memory. He worries that his lover will never reunite with him in such perfect conditions, the three pillars of his ideal not coming together in harmony. He questions the ‘future hold I can?’, unsure if he will be able to live an ideal moment ever again. He knows he cannot relive the past, but hopes the conditions will one day come together again for a moment of perfection.
The final lines of the poem compound a deep sense of separation, Browning using caesura to disrupt the meter of the poem and cause a breakdown in the image of togetherness he seeks. ‘Oh, close, safe, warm’, displays a repeated disruption, Browning almost struggling to believe that perfection repeatedly is slipping from his grasp.
The final line of the poem solidifies Browning’s love her ‘she’, ‘I and she!’ being the focal point of Never the Time and the Place. Although he cannot reach these ideal conditions, just the thought of seeing his lover makes him incredibly happy, ‘I and She’ together seems to be enough for the poet.