Robert Browning (1812–1889)
10 Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
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!
- An archaic oath, often “’sblood”; similar to Gadzooks (God’s hooks) or Zounds (His wounds). ↵
- Latin, “Hail to you.” All italicized words are those of Brother Lawrence. ↵
- Swellings on diseased oak leaves, yielding tannin, used in dyeing. ↵
- Translation of the Latin—rostrum porcinum—for dandelion. ↵
- Jaws, mouth. ↵
- Pirate of Africa’s Barbary Coast of northern Africa, renowned for fierceness and lechery. ↵
- The taking of food and drink, refreshment. ↵
- Heresy which denied the doctrine of the Trinity by asserting that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. ↵
- cf. Galatians 5:19-21, which lists numerous mortal sins. ↵
- 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. ↵
- The Devil’s grip. ↵
- 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. ↵
- Probably the opening words of a curse against Lawrence. ↵
- “Full of grace; Hail, Virgin!” ↵