The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Meeting at Night” is a short poem divided into two parts, each consisting of a single six-line stanza. The poem was originally entitled “Night and Morning” and included a third stanza that described the speaker’s departure; Browning later separated the concluding stanza and retitled the two poems “Meeting at Night” and “Parting at Morning.” Although “Meeting at Night” is written in the first person, Browning rarely directly identified himself with his speakers. When asked about this poem and “Parting at Morning,” Browning indicated that the poems’ speaker was male.

As the title suggests, “Meeting at Night” describes the speaker’s nighttime journey to meet his lover. The poem focuses on the speaker’s anticipation of the meeting and the stages of his journey. Although by the poem’s end the purpose of the journey is made clear to the reader, the speaker does not explain where he is going or why and never gives any details about his relationship with the person he is meeting. Given that the meeting takes place at night and at a remote location, it may be an illicit rendezvous.

In the first stanza, Browning takes advantage of the nighttime setting to create a contrast between the energetic speaker and the inert and featureless landscape. The reader is not provided with a narrative but is offered a series of images and details that suggest the speaker’s state of mind. The speaker, who is traveling by boat, begins by presenting a spare, camera-like representation of the sea, sky, and land. In the first two lines the speaker’s minimalist descriptions of the “grey sea,” “long...

(The entire section is 670 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, but many of the lines include anapestic feet that hurry its pace. Browning’s use of a traditional yet somewhat irregular meter seems appropriate for this speaker, who is both in control and in a hurry. Browning uses the rhyme scheme to insert a subtle contradiction of the poem’s implicit assertion that love is the speaker’s ultimate goal. Each stanza follows the same pattern: abccba. In this rhyme scheme, the last three lines (cba) reverse the sequence of the first three (abc), and the last line rhymes with the first. Thus, while each stanza moves forward toward a goal (the beach, the lover), the rhyme scheme moves backward, signalling that the speaker cannot remain with his lover indefinitely.

As indicated above, Browning also uses imagery and figurative language to convey the speaker’s situation and attitude. The poem’s opening lines present the bleak and almost colorless setting of the speaker’s journey: “grey” sea, “black” land, and a “yellow” half-moon. The poem’s tone seems to shift when the speaker personifies the waves, which “leap” to form “fiery ringlets”: Suddenly the water is full of motion and color, but only in response to the speaker’s actions and preoccupations. The speaker’s first use of “I” takes place in the fifth line—“I gain the cove”—as if to reinforce the notion that he is in control of his environment. Browning...

(The entire section is 441 words.)