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Humanities Libertexts

3.5: Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

  • Page ID
    3115
  • Robert Browning

    Gr-r-r—there go, my heart’s abhorrence!

    Water your damned flower-pots, do!

    If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,

    God’s blood, [1]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![2] 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,[3] I doubt;

    What’s the Latin name for “parsley”?

    What’s the Greek name for “swine’s snout”?[4]

    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[5]

    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?[6]

    (That is, if he’d let it show!)

    When he finishes refection,[7]

    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[8] 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,[9]

    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?[10]

    Or, my scrofulous French novel

    On grey paper with blunt type!

    Simply glance at it, you grovel

    Hand and foot in Belial’s [11] 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[12]

    As he’d miss till, past retrieve,

    Blasted lay that rose-acacia

    We’re so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine…[13]

    ‘St, there’s Vespers! Plena gratia

    Ave, Virgo! [14] Gr-r-r—you swine!

    —1842

    Contributors


    1. An archaic oath, often “’sblood”; similar to Gadzooks (God’s hooks) or Zounds (His wounds). ↵
    2. Latin, “Hail to you.” All italicized words are those of Brother Lawrence. ↵
    3. Swellings on diseased oak leaves, yielding tannin, used in dyeing. ↵
    4. Translation of the Latin—rostrum porcinum—for dandelion. ↵
    5. Jaws, mouth. ↵
    6. Pirate of Africa’s Barbary Coast of northern Africa, renowned for fierceness and lechery. ↵
    7. The taking of food and drink, refreshment. ↵
    8. Heresy which denied the doctrine of the Trinity by asserting that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. ↵
    9. cf. Galatians 5:19-21, which lists numerous mortal sins. ↵
    10. A heretic. The Manichean holds that the universe is controlled by equally balanced forces of good and evil.The speaker hopes to trick Brother Lawrence into uttering such a heresy before Lawrence can recant. ↵
    11. The Devil’s grip. ↵
    12. The speaker considers selling his soul to Satan in exchange for Lawrence’s damnation, but would leave a loophole through which he can escape damnation himself. ↵
    13. Probably the opening words of a curse against Lawrence. ↵
    14. “Full of grace; Hail, Virgin!” ↵
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