Robert Browning, 1812-1883

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
by Robert Browning
from Dramatic Lyrics (1842)


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 district 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 gratiâ
     Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r–you swine!

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