Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
Robert Browning & The Dramatic Monologue
Welcome, everyone, to Word and Song! I will be posting poems every week, with some discussion, and — if you would like more — my reading or “acting” of the poem, because I’ve come to learn that people understand poetry a lot better when they can read it and hear it, than when they read it alone. In any case, most of the poems I’ll be posting were meant to be recited and heard; their authors had that mind.
Robert Browning certainly had that in mind when he wrote this riotously humorous and shrewdly ironic sendup of a Spanish monk who is eaten up with envy. He has to live with Brother Lawrence, a really nice and cheerful fellow whom the other monks look upon as a saint, and he probably is, but that doesn’t make it any easier for our monk to live with him! He can’t stand him for his goodness, which sometimes is so sweet, so innocent, so generous, that our envious monk can’t begin to understand him. Notice that the monk “projects” onto Brother Lawrence his own vices, his own motives, but he doesn’t see it. Why, he will even venture to enter a contract with Satan himself — leaving a loophole, of course — all to ruin Brother Lawrence’s azaleas!
Gr-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence! Water your damned flower-pots, do! If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence, God's blood, would not mine kill you! What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming? Oh, that rose has prior claims-- Needs its leaden vase filled brimming? Hell dry you up with its flames! At the meal we sit together; Salve tibi! I must hear Wise talk of the kind of weather, Sort of season, time of year: Not a plenteous cork crop: scarcely Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt; What's the Latin name for "parsley"? What's the Greek name for "swine's snout"? Whew! We'll have our platter burnished, Laid with care on our own shelf! With a fire-new spoon we're furnished, And a goblet for ourself, Rinsed like something sacrificial Ere 'tis fit to touch our chaps-- Marked with L. for our initial! (He-he! There his lily snaps!) Saint, forsooth! While Brown Dolores Squats outside the Convent bank With Sanchicha, telling stories, Steeping tresses in the tank, Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs, --Can't I see his dead eye glow, Bright as 'twere a Barbary corsair's? (That is, if he'd let it show!) When he finishes refection, Knife and fork he never lays Cross-wise, to my recollection, As do I, in Jesu's praise. I the Trinity illustrate, Drinking watered orange pulp-- In three sips the Arian frustrate; While he drains his at one gulp! Oh, those melons! if he's able We're to have a feast; so nice! One goes to the Abbot's table, All of us get each a slice. How go on your flowers? None double? Not one fruit-sort can you spy? Strange!--And I, too, at such trouble, Keep them close-nipped on the sly! There's a great text in Galatians, Once you trip on it, entails Twenty-nine distinct damnations, One sure, if another fails; If I trip him just a-dying, Sure of heaven as sure can be, Spin him round and send him flying Off to hell, a Manichee? Or, my scrofulous French novel On grey paper with blunt type! Simply glance at it, you grovel Hand and foot in Belial's gripe; If I double down its pages At the woeful sixteenth print, When he gathers his greengages, Ope a sieve and slip it in't? Or, there's Satan!--one might venture Pledge one's soul to him, yet leave Such a flaw in the indenture As he'd miss till, past retrieve, Blasted lay that rose-acacia We're so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine... 'St, there's Vespers! Plena gratia Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r--you swine!
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