Lovebirds & Robert Browning
What is your favorite poem by Robert Browning?
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
I’ve always liked the poem Meeting At Night by English poet and playwright, Robert Browning. It is one of the most visually descriptive poems I’ve ever read. His words are so well-chosen that you feel as if you are beside him on his journey to his love.
As it is night, his steps are barely lit by the moon and are all, but concealed. Were someone to hear his footsteps, they could easily be mistaken for phantom noises. A sea that by day is blue and welcoming by night is grey and mysterious. The sunny beach with its warm, sparkling sand is now “long black land.” As he runs past them, the waves are started from their sleep and “leap in fiery ringlets.” This word use suggests that they could cause him harm and keep him from his destination. However, he keeps running in the “slushy sand.” He is so motivated to get to his loved one that his steps are too fast for his shoes to get stuck.
In the second stanza, he has found the type of sand that you would find by day. It is “warm and sea-scented,” the perfect sand for a lover to run on. As he runs through three fields, you can almost feel his hot, labored breath. Though tired he must be, he is almost at journey’s end. He will not give up now. He arrives at the farm of his love. He must be quiet as not to awake her family. He gently taps on his love’s window pane and, perhaps having been waiting all night for his arrival, she lights a match. They speak softly to each other, “thro' its joys and fears.” His journey is complete.
Reading this poem, you can feel the runner’s immense love and motivation. To someone too wise to fall so hard, such a long, risky journey is unthinkable. For someone who has loved like the narrator or who is a hopeless romantic, his journey is enviable. Though his journey be long, the end result is worth every step.
To me, this poem speaks for anyone who has experienced forbidden love. It is a condensed version of Romeo and Juliet set in a farming community by the sea. Like Romeo, the narrator has so much to risk. He may get shot at by an angry father. He may get sucked into the waves and die on the beach. He may meet with an unsavory character (man or beast) in the fields. Yet, like Romeo, he doesn’t care. A simple kiss from his lady makes every possible risk and difficulty seem minor.
Such an old-fashioned story seems silly in our modern day world of widely accessible cars and children who disobey their parents without consequence. The idea of having to sneak around or wait until nightfall to see the one they love seems to be the practice of the few remaining parent-fearing lovebirds. No matter how you look at it though, it is undeniable that this is a beautiful poem. It is not surprising that Browning’s poems remain a popular choice for romantic readings on Valentine’s Day, at weddings and on anniversaries.
To read more poetry analysis by this writer, please click on the link below.