“Meeting at Night” and “Parting at Morning” are companion poems that are best read as one poem. They were first published in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics under the general title “Night and Morning,” which suggests that Browning saw them as part of a natural, inevitable cycle.
When the poems first appeared, they were criticized as being immoral because they describe lovers rendezvousing for a night of passion, then going their separate ways. Early critics worried that the man and woman, because of the clandestine nature of the tryst, are not married. In any event, there is much of Browning in this poem, for, like its lovers, Elizabeth Barrett and he had to meet secretly.
Although early critics debated the poems’ use of pronouns, Browning said that in both poems the man—the “me” of “Parting at Morning,” line 4—is speaking, detailing his night with his lover. The real strength of the poems is Browning’s mastery of imagery. Every line in both poems employs some specific image in an attempt to stimulate a particular sense. Browning’s subject is a favorite, love between men and women, but only a close examination of the imagery reveals the exact nature of that love.
What Browning meticulously communicates in these poems is the physical nature of love. The images constantly refer to the senses of smell, taste, touch, and hearing, as well as sensations of heat, light, and kinesthesia. Browning’s artistry lies in his indirection. Never does the speaker say that their relationship is deeply sexual; he implies it. The description of the journey becomes a sort of emotional topography. Life apart for the lovers is like the land, black and gray with only a little light. They are each halves of the moon. Yet as he gets closer to the woman, his senses come alive, even commingle: the “warm sea-scented beach” (line 7) appeals to three senses simultaneously. When they join, like the boat’s prow in the “slushy sand” (line 6), there is a sudden spurt of love.
While he communicates the emotions of the ecstatic moment, Browning also suggests that they are fleeting, like the night, and inevitably the male must return to the “world of men” (“Parting at Morning,” line 4). Browning said that the first poem argues that “raptures are self-sufficient and enduring,” while the second contends “how fleeting” is that belief.