Monday, June 16, 2008

A Short One by Browning


I like the following short poem by Robert Browning, who's probably best known for longer narrative works and those famous dramatic monologues, such as "My Last Duchess." I always thought his sensibility and that of the 20th century American poet, Randall Jarrell, were similar. In fact I wrote a long paper once in which I attempted to characterize this sensibility, which I argued had a lot to do with empathy. Both were quite learned poets, but they understated the learning by means of relatively plain phrasing. Jarrell was undoubtedly more interested in criticism than Browning, whose contemporary Matthew Arnold was arguably the chief poet/critic of th era, in England at least.

Night Meeting

by Robert Browning

I.
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.

II.
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 especially like the way Browning works in basic colors here--grey, black, yellow, blue. I like the bookend rhymes he uses in both stanzas, too--very effective. At the core of each stanza is a couplet, and the distance between rhymes widens from there. This would bed a nice rhyme-scheme to imitate, as an exercise.

I might have left off the exclamation point. . . .The penultimate actions--someone taps on a window-pane to announce arrival, and someone inside lights a match: wonderful--basic but precise and evocative, like the colors. Well done, Bob.
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