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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526

Robert Browning’s poem “Meeting at Night,” first published in the 1840s, describes the unnamed speaker’s journey back to his lover. The poem is set at nighttime, and the speaker, in his boat, sees the outline of “the long black land” in the distance. As he approaches the shore, the “half-moon large and low” illuminates the water, creating a romantic picture, and “startled little waves” appear, which move “In fiery ringlets from their sleep.” The language here connotes an awakening and echoes the speaker’s emotions awakening now that he is almost back with his lover. When he reaches the shore the boat “quench[es] its speed i’ the slushy sand.” The ch and sh sounds in this quotation are onomatopoeic of the boat being dragged across the sand.

The second stanza describes the speaker’s journey across the beach and over fields to the farm where his lover lives. In the first three lines there is a notable absence of connectives—meaning that the lines are written as an asyndetic list. The absence of any connectives creates a quickened pace, reflecting the speaker’s haste to see his lover once more.

When the speaker reaches the farm, he taps on the window and then describes “the quick sharp scratch / And blue spurt of a lighted match” from within. The light imagery here is significant and symbolically suggests that, now he has returned to his lover, there is light again in his world. The significance of the light is of course emphasized visually by the fact that the poem is set at night. The monosyllabic lines here also help to compound the quick pace of the poem, also indicating perhaps the intensified beating of the speaker’s heart.

The poem concludes with the image of the speaker’s heart next to his lover’s heart—“the two hearts are beating each to each!” The exclamatory sentence emphasizes the happiness of the moment for both. The repetition of the word “heart” compounds the symbolic connotations of the heart: namely love and romance.

Most of the poem is written in iambic tetrameter, meaning that every second syllable in most lines is stressed and that, in these lines, there are four stressed syllables. For example, “The grey sea and the long black land” (emphasis added). The iambic tetrameter creates a regular rhythm, perhaps reflecting the heartbeat of the speaker—which becomes such a prominent motif in the second stanza. When, as in these lines, the final syllable is stressed, this also creates a rising meter, or intonation, which usually connotes a more upbeat tone.

There is also a regular rhyme scheme to the poem, whereby in each stanza the first and sixth lines rhyme, as do the second and fifth and the third and fourth. This rhyme scheme works with the iambic tetrameter to create a melodic, harmonious rhythm, reflecting the harmony between the speaker and his lover.

Significantly, Browning wrote “Meeting at Night” while courting the woman who would eventually become his wife, the poet Elizabeth Barrett. Barrett’s father, however, disapproved of Browning, and these circumstances may have inspired the clandestine meeting described in the poem.

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