Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
- In line 9, Speaker #1 is asking whether he will run into anyone else on this journey. The answer is he will, but we're not convinced that's as reassuring as it sounds.
- First, Speaker #1 specifically asks about people he'll run into "at night." The kinds of people who you run into at night, Shmoopsters, are very often up to no good. It's when the bad guys do all their dirty work and, from a more spiritual perspective, it's the time of witches, devils, and temptation. We have no reason to think the people mentioned in this poem are necessarily the bad type, but we have no reason to assume they're good, either.
- Second, Speaker #2's answer can be both comforting and creepy, depending on how you look at it. Think about this for a second—if you're heading somewhere, why would you possibly run into people who had already been there on your way?
- Since we're talking about an inn that lies uphill, one answer is that maybe these people are on their way back, but that seems odd given that we think the inn might just be one stop on a long, extensive journey. And why would they be traveling specifically at night?
- These questions gets particularly complicated when you start thinking about the metaphorical or allegorical symbol potentially at work in the poem.
- One of the more popular theories is that the road in "Up-Hill" is the so-called "road of life," and the poem is all about the twists and turns you meet along the way and how the wisdom of your elders helps you to be better prepared for those inevitable hardships. Another interpretation is that the path is the "straight and narrow gate" mentioned in Matthew 7:14, a.k.a. the road to Christian salvation. But only Benjamin Button moves backwards on the road of life. The idea of people finding salvation and then somehow becoming un-saved isn't exactly reassuring, so what does that make "those who have gone before"? Ghosts? Angels? People who have fallen along the way and are trying desperately to get back to the top of the hill? It's hard to say for sure, but we have yet to be totally convinced that Speaker #1 wouldn't be better off on that road alone.
- On the other hand, knowing that someone—anyone—has done something before you and lived to tell the tale is always reassuring, particularly given the difficult nature of the path described in "Up-Hill."
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
- Line 11 takes us back to the inn, where Speaker #1 is wondering how he's supposed to get in.
- It's a question that Speaker #2 doesn't really answer, he merely promises that someone will open the door and it won't be an issue. So, that sounds like a bonus.
- This raises up another tricksy habit of Speaker #2, and that is his uncanny ability to address Speaker #1's concerns without always directly answering his question. It's almost like Speaker #2 knows #1 so well that he knows what's really being asked even when it's not what Speaker #1 actually says.
- In these two lines, for example, Speaker #2 doesn't say, "Don't worry, they've got a video censor that lights up when people are about to arrive so the door is always unlocked," he simply says "They won't leave you out in the cold." (You may remember a similar thing happens in lines 7 and 8, when Speaker #2 says "you cannot miss that inn" but doesn't say what it is that makes the inn stand out so clearly.)
- For many people, this represents a very important piece of Christian, specifically Protestant, theology. Catholicism got a lot of flack back in the day for being too "works based," operating under the idea that people who did good and godly things would get into heaven. Protestants, however, disagreed, and claim that only the grace of and faith in God can save men's souls.
- Speaker #2, then, seems kind of like a stand-in for the Protestant God. Instead of telling Speaker #1 what to do, he's simply saying "trust what I'm telling you and everything is going to work out just fine."
- If we keep following this God-train of thought, the inn (a loaded Biblical allusion to begin with) also becomes a symbol of heaven. Don't worry though, we get into all that and more in the "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" section, only a few clicks away.