Text of the Poem


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!


  1. The poem begins with several visual images that describe a natural landscape and a nighttime setting by the sea. The colors of the landscape are muted—grey, black, and yellow—and the moon is only half full, suspended “large and low” on the horizon; the color imagery and the presence of the moon both imply a gathering darkness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words, is also employed. The initial “l” sound in “long” alliterates with the “l” sounds in “land, “large,” and “low.” The alliteration, which continues in the following line with “little” and “leap,” unifies the various visual images into a single setting.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Browning here employs personification in describing the sea by attributing human qualities to it. The waves are described as having been asleep but awakened with a start. “Startled,” meaning suddenly alarmed, suggests that the waves had been surprised by something unexpected.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. These lines also feature a visual image created through a metaphor. The “little waves” that break the surface of the water are “fiery ringlets” (small rings of fire) in the moonlight. Through the personification and the imagery in these lines, action is introduced into the poem. The sea is now described as a dynamic presence in nature, and the remainder of the poem’s narrative is characterized by motion and forward movement.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. A “cove” is a small inlet or bay on the coast, small and sheltered in contrast to the open sea. “Prow” refers to the bow of a ship or boat rides above the water. The immediate alliteration of the “p” sound in “pushing prow” quickens the rhythm in the line and suggests that the speaker is driven and impatient to reach land.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The hard “c” sound at the beginning of “cove” is repeated in “quench,” and the line ends with alliteration, as the initial “s” sound in “speed” is repeated in “slushy” and “sand.” Employing alliteration in one line after another in quick succession brings the lines together in subject and theme, enhances the rhythm in each line, and again emphasizes the speaker’s haste.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The description of the beach appeals to two physical senses: the air—and by implication, the sand on the beach—feels warm, and the beach smells like the sea. “Sea-scented” implies that the smell of the beach is appealing, as the word “scent” has positive connotations associated with a fragrance or sweet-smelling aroma. The sensual imagery contrasts with the speaker’s subdued description of the landscape at the poem’s beginning. The gradual introduction of tactile and olfactory imagery shows that the speaker’s senses are becoming heightened as he continues to move closer to his destination.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Alliteration is employed once again as the initial “f” sound in “fields” is repeated in “farm.” Bringing the two words together through alliteration underscores the poem’s rural setting and its remote location. The speaker is traveling to a place far removed from society and its conventions, implying that for this night, at least, he will no longer be bound by them.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The speaker’s arrival at his destination and what ensues are described using figurative language and with imagery that appeals to two senses. Onomatopoeia is employed through the use of “tap” and “scratch,” as each word reproduces the sound of its meaning. Readers hear the sound—the “quick sharp scratch”—of lighting a match and see it flame in a “blue spurt” of fire. The auditory and visual imagery in these lines creates the moment when isolation, silence, and darkness end with the speaker’s arrival at his final destination.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The lovers’ feelings for each other are described through another figure of speech: hyperbole, or exaggeration or overstatement. As described, the beating of the lovers’ hearts is louder than the voice of the speaker’s beloved when he is seen at the window. The hyperbole emphasizes the intensity of their feelings and brings the poem full circle by revealing why the speaker has made his long nighttime journey with such determination and impatience.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff