Robert Browning was an erudite poet best known for his dramatic monologues. The most important event of his life was his marriage to Elizabeth Barrett who was an older and better known poet. Elizabeth had been under the control of a dominating and jealous father and the two had to marry in secret and elope to escape her father’s anger. This particular poem is most likely connected to the clandestine affair that he had with Elizabeth Barrett. The poet here speaks of meeting his lover late at night in a farm house that he reaches after crossing a part of the ocean.
The poem starts off with a series of descriptions of the sea and the land. With no words to show any action, the fast changing descriptions help to conjure fast moving scenery. Only in the fifth line does the speaker appear in person. He is moving along the edge of the ocean in a boat. Once he gains land, he kills the speed of the boat and leaving in on the wet beach, walks along till he comes to some fields. He now crosses three of them till he comes to a farm house. His tap on the window pane produces immediate response. He hears a bolt being moved and the scratch of a match being struck and then is heard a tremulous voice.
The speaker crosses a strip of ocean with the land along it appearing black in the darkness of the night. The yellow moon illumines the wavelets that seem to leap up in surprise. Soon he comes to a cove into which he enters. He lands and leaves the boat in the slushy sand. He walks along the beach and then comes to some fields that he crosses soon reaching a farm house. In answer to his tap on the window pane is heard the sound of the bolt being pulled and the scratch of a match. This is followed by a tremulous voice.
The poem opens with descriptions of the sea and the “black land”, black because it is night and the yellow moon does not illuminate it sufficiently. This is the key to the title of the poem “Meeting at Night”. The moonlight hitting the seawater makes the waves frilling at the edges appear like “fiery ringlets”. He leaves the boat in the slushy sand at the cove.
He then begins moving, first walking along the beach for a mile or so. Crossing some fields, he comes to a farm. To gain admittance, he taps on the window pane. In answer to this call there is the sound of a bolt being drawn and a match being struck. Soon he can hear a tremulous voice speaking to him.
A series of fast moving descriptions followed by lines denoting action couches the poem with a sense of mystery and intrigue which matches the title “Meeting at night”. The story of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett’s courtship tells us that this was perhaps a true incident.