Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

The poem both asserts and questions the idea that passionate emotion, especially love, is not only powerful but also enduring and vital. The speaker argues for the power of love by insisting upon his ability to conquer all that separates him from his lover. Time, distance, and even the lovers’ “joys and fears” cannot stand in his way and are not important once the two are together. Displaying characteristic Victorian optimism, the speaker believes firmly in his ability to achieve his goals and ends the poem at the precise moment when he has done so.

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At the same time, the speaker’s own words amply demonstrate the difficulty of attaining the kind of experience that he exalts. Most of the poem’s few lines are devoted to recounting the distance that the speaker must travel and the obstacles he must overcome. The fact that the speaker must travel a considerable distance to reach his lover’s farm is especially important. The speaker says nothing about his day-to-day life, but he obviously lives far from the rural setting that his lover inhabits. The physical distance between the lovers points to other ways in which they, as a man and a woman, are different and irrevocably separate. Both before and after marriage, Victorian men and women lived within separate social spheres; men were increasingly called upon to identify themselves with work and with the world outside the home, while women were encouraged to participate primarily in domestic activities and to nurture the emotional and spiritual life of the family. It is therefore significant that the meeting takes place within the female lover’s home, because the experience itself is nonrational and belongs within the domestic and private women’s sphere.

The speaker must eventually leave the farm, along with the realm of female experience and emotion, to return to the male world (which he does in the four-line “Parting at Morning”). The journey depicted in “Meeting at Night” is thus in part a journey from the male world to the female; this accounts for the long distance that the speaker must travel and for his need to separate himself from the passivity he associates with nature and the female realm. Although the speaker’s intense emotion causes him to represent the moment of reunion as all-powerful, the distance between the speaker and his lover remains, like the distance between the social worlds of men and women, and this distance marks the reunion as a rare and transitory event.

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