Unseen Critical Analysis Of `meeting At Night` By Robert Browning
Unseen Essay - IB English Higher Level - Lv 7
This poem explores the journey of the narrator to reach his lover. The setting shifts throughout the journey, from the "grey sea" to the "mile of sea-scented beach" reflecting the terrain, as well as the tones of the poem. The themes of anxiety and tension are enacted using active and energetic verbs and images, such as "startled", "leap", and "spurt". The focus of the poem tightens in its progression, starting from the open sea and the "long black land" to the "farm" and furthermore, to the "tap at the pane". The title of the poem, "Meeting at Night", suggests an element of secrecy and anxiety due to the idea that the meeting has occurred during night and shrouded in darkness, which is manifested in the urgency and eagerness of the narrator. The vivid details seem to have no specific hierarchical value given by the narrator, suggesting the focus of attention on his goal of reaching his lover.
Setting plays an important role in creating the backdrop for the journey in the poem, in addition to complementing the shifting tones. The scenic background is created in the opening two lines, a "yellow half-moon large and low", with a heavy appeal to various colours. The reader is moved along by the narrator's eagerness "as I gain the cove" and in "the slushy sand". The second stanza opens with the image of "a mile of warm ... beach", a swift development from the journey at sea, and then onto the fields and building rapidly to the farmhouse. The hurried transition of the setting echoes the urgency of the narrator on his secretive travel. Moreover, the setting complements the shifts in tone that occur, such as the "startled little waves" suggesting a more anxious tone than the gentle pictorial opening would suggest. Browning thus uses setting to complement the development of mood, and enact the themes of urgency and anxiety in this poem.
The sense of urgency and eagerness in the poem is created through the use of the first person narrative and the present tense. The poem is made much more immediate through the involvement of the reader, such as the phrase "I gain the cove with pushing prow". The use of the present tense in that example, as well as other references, "leap" and "beating", emphasise the immediacy of the content and make the poem more vivid. Indeed, there is a lack of a main verb in both stanzas, reflecting the eagerness of the narrator in discarding the details and images along his journey for his main purpose of meeting with his lover. This absorbing sense of purpose is created through Browning's use of the present tense, and the first person narrative perspective creates a rapport between the reader and narrator.
The mood of the poem is largely anxious and tense, reflecting the narrator's urgency to journey to his lover. There is a brisk pace due to the succession of images, from the "fiery ringlets" to the "slushy sand", complementing the eagerness of the narrator. The tone of the poem starts quite calmly with the scenic moon looming over the sea, but it shifts to a more tense nature with the "startled little waves". The tension in the mood is brought to the fore during the middle two lines in each stanza, such as the "tap at the pane", contrasting with the more gentle atmosphere of the first two lines. By the end of the poem, the tone has shifted once again to more joyful, "through its joys", as the narrator and his lover meet each other. Thus Browning has successfully used mood and shifting tones to enact the themes of tension and urgency in the narrator's journey.
Sensory details have a significant role in Browning's treatment of the subject matter in this poem, making it more vivid and immediate to the reader. The visual nature of the opening lines sets the backdrop for the poem. The appeal to colours, "grey sea", "black land" and "yellow half-moon", directly invokes the reader to internalise the scene. Browning makes effective use of sounds to intensify the impact of the poem, such as the onomatopoeic "slushy sand" and "sharp scratch". There is also a development in the appeal to selective senses through the poem, reflecting the shifts in tone. The pictorial opening two lines subside to an appeal to sight, and then sound, while the sense of touch is mostly appealed to in the last two lines with the "two hears beating each to each". Browning's use of the senses, and the appeal to colour, makes the poem particularly vivid and complements the shifting tones, in addition to the theme and subject matter.
Browning uses striking imagery to intensify the descri ption in the poem, and its development mirrors the shifting tones and mood. Fire imagery is employed throughout, the "fiery ringlets", the "blue spurt" and the "lighted match", augmenting the urgency and passion of the narrator in reaching his lover. The water imagery stands in contrast, producing tension and conflict with the "grey sea", "little waves", and "quench". Furthermore, there is the development from the image of the "yellow half-moon" to the "two hearts beating each to each", suggesting the progression from the romantic to the subtly erotic. The focus of attention narrows from the wide expanse of the sea to the specific rural domestic farmhouse image. Thus the use of imagery reinforces the mood of tension, and suggests the shift in tones that occur through the poem's progression.
The structure of the poem, and its symmetrical rhyme scheme, contributes to its overarching themes and complements the development in subject matter. Split into two equal length stanzas, with three couplets in each, the general structure is clear and provides a framework for the poem. The rhyme scheme comes together in the middle of each stanza, with the full rhymes "leap" and "sleep", and "scratch" and "match" in the subsequent lines, surrounded by rhymes in the first and sixth lines, and the second and fifth lines. This drawing together echoes the image of the "two hearts beating each to each" as the narrator reaches his lover. The use of enjambment in the poem quickens the pace, and shows the sense of purpose of the narrator in his journey to meet his lover. Browning thus utilises the structure to complement the urgent tone, in addition to augmenting the romantic meeting of the narrator and his lover.
In conclusion, Browning has successfully examined the journey of the narrator in his urgent sense of purpose in meeting his lover, using development of setting and shifting tones against a mood of tension and anxiety. The first person narrative perspective brings a sense of immediacy to the poem, while the use of sensory details, colour, and striking imagery makes the poem particularly vivid and complements the theme. Personally, I find this poem to be highly effective in showing the eagerness of the narrator in his travel due to the absence of a main verb and the use of energetic verbs. The final image of the two lovers together is beautifully explored through the use of the symmetrical rhyme scheme coming together in the middle of the stanzas from the yellow half-moon image in the opening.
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