Robert Browning (1812–1889)

10 Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

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!




  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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