Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
- The poem opens with a description of the landscape: a "grey sea," "long black land," and a "half-moon" that is either rising or setting (it is "low" on the horizon).
- There are no verbs in these first two lines, so we don't know what the land is doing; it is just there.
- "Black land" and the presence of the moon inform us that it is nighttime (hence the title "Meeting at Night").
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
- The speaker continues describing the features of the landscape; there are "little waves" that, strangely, resemble "fiery ringlets."
- We already know that the speaker is near the ocean, but this description of the waves suggests that maybe the speaker is in a boat.
- The "fiery ringlets" of line 3 contrast with the images of darkness we have already encountered ("black land," the moon, and the "night" of the title).
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
- Finally, someone is doing something in the poem! We learn that the speaker is sailing. He reaches ("gains") the "cove" (a kind of recess or sheltered space on the coast of an ocean).
- The descriptions in lines 1-4 refer to the scene the speaker observes while sailing.
- "Quench its speed" is strange, in part because we don't know what "its" refers to. It seems likely that "its" refers to the boat the speaker is sailing.
- "Quench" means to extinguish or stop (like quenching your thirst by drinking Gatorade), so "quench its speed" means to "stop" the boat on the shore, "i[n] the slushy sand."