The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 670

“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.

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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 black land,” and “yellow half-moon” emphasize the darkness of the night, which makes it difficult for the speaker to see what is around him. At the same time, the speaker’s response indicates that he is not interested in his surroundings but is instead focused on arriving at his destination. The remainder of the stanza emphasizes the speaker’s eagerness to reach land. The effect of the speaker’s vigorous rowing on the water is conveyed through a vivid metaphor in which “startled little waves” form “fiery ringlets” as they are awakened from “sleep.” Browning allows the speaker’s personification of the waves to parallel and foreshadow the end of the second part of the poem, in which the speaker is reunited with (and perhaps awakens) his lover. The speaker’s lover is thus identified with nature (the waves). The link between the speaker’s lover and the natural world is also important in the last lines of the poem, in which the image of the boat’s “pushing prow” coming to rest in the “slushy sand” takes on sexual overtones. By the end of the first stanza, the male speaker is identified as active and dominant over nature, which is identified as passive and female.

In the second stanza, readers learn that the speaker’s journey is by no means over: He must still walk a mile on the beach and cross three fields before he will arrive at his lover’s farm. The first stanza’s pattern of moving toward and finally arriving at a destination is thus repeated. Since the speaker is still traveling in darkness, his description of his reunion with his lover is related almost entirely through his sense of sound: his tap at the window, the sound of his lover striking a match, the sound of a voice, and in the last line, the sound of their two hearts beating. The sounds the speaker relates are in themselves commonplace, but here they take on intense meaning and enhance the mystery and excitement of the speaker’s reunion. When the speaker’s lover lights the match, one realizes that the darkness of the speaker’s journey is finally over, both in the literal and the figurative sense. The poem ends with the speaker’s implied claim that the lovers’ reunion is a kind of epiphany that blots out the “joys and fears” of everyday life.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

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 uses personification not to enhance the role of nature in the poem but to emphasize the speaker’s sense of dominance.

In the second part of the poem, Browning’s images shift as the speaker reaches land and nears his goal. Although a mile of beach still separates him from his lover, the beach, unlike the bleak and cold water, is “warm” and “sea-scented.” As discussed earlier, the imagery from this point on is predominantly aural, with the exception of the “blue spurt” of the match. The flash of light recalls the “fiery” appearance of the waves in the first stanza and strengthens the connection between the waves and the speaker’s lover.

At the end of the poem, the speaker uses figurative language again, this time hyperbole, when he claims that the lovers’ hearts are louder than a human voice; at the same time he downplays the importance of the “voice” and its “joys and fears” by not telling readers whose voice it is (it could be his or his lover’s). The speaker’s hyperbole attempts to bestow permanence upon the ecstatic moment, in which the heart, emotion, and union take precedence over the head, reason, and separation.

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