Discussion Topic

Analysis and interpretation of Robert Browning's "Meeting at Night."


"Meeting at Night" by Robert Browning is a poem that captures the excitement and anticipation of a secret romantic rendezvous. The poem describes the speaker's journey across the sea and through the night to meet their lover. Vivid imagery and sensory details highlight the intensity of the emotions and the urgency of the meeting, emphasizing themes of love and desire.

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What is your interpretation of "Meeting at Night" by Robert Browning?

An essay about Robert's Browning's poem "Meeting at Night" might explore the theme of love and show how the poem's tone and language support this theme.

In this short, two-stanza poem with six lines in each verse, Browning uses the first stanza to build suspense. We know that the speaker is out at night in a boat headed somewhere in an urgent way, but we don't know where he is going or why.

This suspense keeps us reading, and in the second stanza, we discover that the speaker is now continuing his urgent journey on land. Finally, in the last line, we learn the reason for his haste: the speaker has reunited with his beloved, their "two hearts beating each to each!"

The theme of the poem is love, and especially the need of the lover to reunite with his beloved, whatever it takes. This theme is reinforced by the urgent tone of the poem, with its sense of relentless motion. For instance, the imagery of the

startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep
shows that the lover's passion to row to shore has "startled" the waves, causing them to "leap" into action from a sleeping state: the lover's urgency is awakening the slumbering nature all around him and conveying to it some of his own fire. In what is called the "pathetic fallacy," nature mirrors the speaker's own emotional state.
The tone of urgency continues in the second stanza with such imagery as the "quick sharp scratch" and "blue spurt" of a match being lit as the lover arrives at his destination. All of these are short, sharp words that communicate urgency, and, of course, the match is a symbol of fire or passion. The match suggests, too, that perhaps this is a secret meeting between the two lovers.
Whatever the case, the poem's tone and imagery convey the ability of love to drive and motivate people to travel outside of their comfort zones in order to achieve oneness with a beloved.
You might want to explore other ways the poem uses language and imagery to convey urgency, such as the passion conveyed by the exclamation point at the poem's end.
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What are the figures of speech in Robert Browning's "Meeting at Night"?

There are a few other figures of speech in this poem in addition to those already described by the previous posts. In the final line of the poem, we see an example of synecdoche in the description of the "two hearts beating each to each." Synecdoche is a technique in which one part of something is used to represent the whole. In this case, the "two hearts" of the people in the poem are used to represent the two people. The fact that the poet chooses their hearts as representative of the two people foregrounds their emotional connection. The sensory imagery of the "two hearts beating," meanwhile, creates a sense that their pulse rates are elevated with the joy of being reunited once more. Their two hearts beat only for each other, seemingly more loudly than the voice crying out.

We also see the use of anaphora in this poem to give it a sense of internal cohesion: "And the long black land," "and the yellow half-moon," "and the startled little waves." There is significant repetition of "and" throughout this poem. This helps create a sense of distance between the speaker and his destination: he must pass this, and this, then "a mile of warm sea-scented beach" before he finds his way to the farm, but his mind is set upon his goal. The repetition of "and" maintains a sense of the speaker's earnestness to complete his task and reach the farm.

The sensory imagery in the final stanza of the poem creates a sense of place beautifully with the use of only three elements: the "tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch" are details of sound, and "the blue spurt of a lighted match" provides an accompanying visual image.

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What are the figures of speech in Robert Browning's "Meeting at Night"?

Robert Browning uses a number of figures of speech in his poem "Meeting at Night." Here are some examples:

  • Alliteration: In the first line, Browning repeats the l sound in the phrase "long black land." By repeating this sound, Browning reinforces the idea of elongation: the idea that the land is indeed long. He uses alliteration again in the final line of the first stanza when he talks about the "speed" of the "slushy sand."  In this case, the alliteration is combined with onomatopoeia since the slushing provides a description of the sound it makes. This gives the reader a very vivid description because it creates a sensory image.
  • Personification: In the third line, Browning gives the waves some human qualities by describing them as "startled" and leaping. This same line also provides an example of metaphor. Browning likens the waves to something "fiery" and sleepy, neither of which is a true comparison. 
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What are the figures of speech in Robert Browning's "Meeting at Night"?

I can help point out a few to get you started:

1.  Personification.  This is where you give inanimate objects human-like characteristics.  It helps things to have more life and depth to them.  In this poem, Browning refers to "the startled little waves."  Waves cannot be startled; that is tying a human reaction to an object in nature, and it makes the waves seem alive and active.  He also says that the waves were roused "from their sleep," again tying the ocean to traits of humans.

2.  Onomatopoeia.  This is when the words sound like the thing that they are describing, for example, "hiss" to describe the sound a cat makes when angry.  In the poem, the flame of the match "spurts," the sand is "slushy," their hearts are "beating," and the narrator "taps" and "scratches" at the windowpane.  These words help the reader to feel like they are right there, hearing the noises.

3.  Alliteration.  This is when two or more words in a sentence begin with the same consonant sounds.  In this poem, we have the "pushing prow," and the "slushy sand," the moon is "large and low," and there is a "sharp scratch" at the window.  The use of alliteration helps the poem to flow and have cadence.

I hope that those help to get you started; good luck!

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What is the substance of the poem "Meeting at Night" by Robert Browning?

In "Meeting at Night," the speaker is a male. In the first stanza, the speaker is making his way through the water/sea. The descriptions of the landscape/seascape indicate that it is at night. As the speaker travels over the water, the landscape is still/asleep. 

And the startled little waves that leap

In fiery ringlets from their sleep,

The speaker awakens the sea as he travels. He awakens nature; this will parallel the next stanza when he awakens the person he's going to meet (possibly a lover, maybe even some kind of secret rendezvous). Note the sexual imagery as well: the "pushing prow" of his ship and the "slushy sand" that the prow pushes into when he reaches the shore, thus "quenching" his speed. 

In the second stanza, the speaker must still travel a mile on land. He arrives at a house, taps on the window pane, and inside someone (presumably a lover) lights a match for a candle or lantern. In joy and fear, (she) whispers ("less loud") than the sound of their two hearts beating together. Remember the parallel: in the first stanza, he awakened the waves (nature) and here he awakens her, awakening her human/sexual/loving nature. 

(Browning's poem "Parting at Morning" is the companion piece to this poem and describes the speaker's departure the next morning.) 

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