'The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church' by Robert Browning
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Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!
Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back?
Nephews -- sons mine -- ah God, I know not! Well --
She, men would have to be your mother once,
Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she was!
What's done is done, and she is dead beside,
Dead long ago, and I am Bishop since,
And as she died so must we die ourselves,
And thence ye may perceive the world's a dream.
Life, how and what is it? As here I lie
In this state-chamber, dying by degrees,
Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask
"Do I live, am I dead?" Peace, peace seems all.
Saint Praxed's ever was the church for peace;
And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought
With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know:
-- Old Gandolf cozened me, despite my care;
Shrewd was that snatch from out the corner South
He graced his carrion with, God curse the same!
Yet still my niche is not so cramped but thence
One sees the pulpit o' the epistle-side,
And somewhat of the choir, those silent seats,
And up into the very dome where live
The angels, and a sunbeam's sure to lurk:
And I shall fill my slab of basalt there,
And 'neath my tabernacle take my rest,
With those nine columns round me, two and two,
The odd one at my feet where Anselm stands:
Peach-blossom marble all, the rare, the ripe
As fresh poured red wine of a mighty pulse
-- Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone,
Put me where I may look at him! True peach,
Rosy and flawless: how I earned the prize!
Draw close: that conflagration of my church
-- What then? So much was saved if aught were missed!
My sons, ye would not be my death? Go dig
The white-grape vineyard where the oil-press stood,
Drop water gently till the surface sink,
And if ye find -- Ah God, I know not, I! --
Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves soft,
And corded up in a tight olive-frail,
Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli,
Big as a Jew's head cut off at the nape,
Blue as a vein o'er the Madonna's breast
Sons, all have I bequeathed you, villas, all,
That brave Frascati villa with its bath,
So, let the blue lump poise between my knees,
Like God the Father's globe on both his hands
Ye worship in the Jesu Church so gay,
For Gandolf shall not choose but see and burst!
Swift as a weaver's shuttle fleet our years:
Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?
Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black --
'Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else
Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath?
The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me.
Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance
Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so,
The Saviour at his sermon on the mount,
Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan
Ready to twitch the Nymph's last garment off,
And Moses with the tables -- but I know
Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee,
Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah, ye hope
To revel down my villas while I gasp
Bricked o'er with beggar's mouldy travertine
Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at!
Nay, boys, ye love me -- all of jasper, then!
'Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve.
My bath must needs be left behind, alas!
One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut,
There's plenty jasper somewhere in the world --
And have I not Saint Praxed's ear to pray
Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts,
And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?
-- That's if ye carve my epitaph aright,
Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully's every word,
No gaudy ware like Gandolf's second line --
Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need!
And then how I shall lie through centuries,
And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long,
And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!
For as I lie here, hours of the dead night,
Dying in state and by such slow degrees,
I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,
And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point,
And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop
Into great laps and folds of sculptor's work:
And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts
Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,
About the life before I lived this life,
And this life too, popes, cardinals and priests,
Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount,
Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes,
And new-found agate urns as fresh as day,
And marble's language, Latin pure, discreet,
-- Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our friend?
No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best!
Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage.
All lapis, all, sons! Else I give the Pope
My villas! Will ye ever eat my heart?
Ever your eyes were as a lizard's quick,
They glitter like your mother's for my soul,
Or ye would heighten my impoverished frieze,
Piece out its starved design, and fill my vase
With grapes, and add a visor and a Term,
And to the tripod ye would tie a lynx
That in his struggle throws the thyrsus down,
To comfort me on my entablature
Whereon I am to lie till I must ask
"Do I live, am I dead?" There, leave me, there!
For ye have stabbed me with ingratitude
To death -- ye wish it -- God, ye wish it! Stone --
Gritstone, a crumble! Clammy squares which sweat
As if the corpse they keep were oozing through --
And no more lapis to delight the world!
Well, go! I bless ye. Fewer tapers there,
But in a row: and, going, turn your backs
-- Ay, like departing altar-ministrants,
And leave me in my church, the church for peace,
That I may watch at leisure if he leers --
Old Gandolf -- at me, from his onion-stone,
As still he envied me, so fair she was!
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church: A Masterpiece of Browning's Artistry
"Oh, to be in England now that April's there!" exclaims Robert Browning, invoking the spirit of Shakespeare's sonnet to capture the essence of his poetic vision. And, if one were to open the pages of his works, one would be transported to a world filled with vivid imagery, rich symbolism, and a deep exploration of human psychology.
In this literary criticism, I intend to delve into one of his most celebrated poems, "The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church." Through an in-depth analysis of its language, themes, and historical context, I aim to unravel the intricacies of Browning's artistry and offer a fresh perspective on this timeless masterpiece.
Before we dive into the poem's literary merits, it is important to understand the historical context in which it was written. Browning lived in the Victorian era, a time of great social and political upheaval in England. The country was witnessing rapid industrialization, urbanization, and technological advancements, which were changing the face of society. The Victorian era was also marked by a deep sense of religiosity and piety, which is evident in the poem's setting.
"The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church" is set in Rome, Italy, during the Renaissance period. The poem's protagonist, the Bishop, is a wealthy and powerful man who has amassed great wealth and influence through his position in the Church. He is dying and wants to secure his place in the afterlife by constructing an elaborate tomb for himself. The poem is a vivid portrayal of the Bishop's ambition, vanity, and greed, as well as his fear of death and the unknown.
At its core, "The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church" is a meditation on the transience of life and the futility of earthly pursuits. Through the Bishop's character, Browning explores the human desire for power, wealth, and status, and the ultimate realization that these things are fleeting and meaningless in the face of death.
The poem also touches upon themes of religion, art, and history. The Bishop's tomb is a magnificent work of art, filled with intricate carvings and sculptures that depict scenes from his life. The Bishop sees this as a testament to his greatness and piety, but Browning uses this to comment on the role of art in society and the relationship between faith and artistic expression.
Language and Style
Browning's language and style in "The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church" are nothing short of masterful. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, a poetic meter that consists of ten syllables per line, with a stress on every other syllable. This gives the poem a musical quality and a sense of rhythm that is both soothing and hypnotic.
Browning's use of imagery is also striking. The Bishop's tomb is described in intricate detail, with vivid descriptions of the carvings, sculptures, and inscriptions that adorn it. The imagery is both beautiful and grotesque, reflecting the contradictions of the Bishop's character.
Browning also uses symbolism to great effect in the poem. The Bishop's desire for a magnificent tomb is symbolic of his desire for eternal glory and recognition, while his fear of death is symbolic of the human fear of the unknown and the afterlife.
So, what is the meaning of "The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church?" In my interpretation, the poem is a scathing critique of the excesses of the Church and the wealthy elite. The Bishop is a symbol of this excess, with his wealth and power used to build a monument to his own greatness rather than to help the poor and needy.
Browning's use of imagery and symbolism also suggests a deeper critique of the human condition. The Bishop's desire for earthly glory and immortality is ultimately futile, as death is the great equalizer that shows the vanity of all human pursuits.
At the same time, the poem is also a celebration of the power of art to transcend the limitations of the human condition. The Bishop's tomb may be a monument to his own vanity, but it is also a masterpiece of artistic expression that captures the imagination and inspires awe.
In conclusion, "The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church" is a masterpiece of Browning's artistry. Through its vivid imagery, powerful symbolism, and deep exploration of human psychology, the poem offers a scathing critique of the excesses of the Church and the wealthy elite, while also celebrating the power of art to transcend the limitations of the human condition.
As a lover of literature, I am constantly in awe of the way that great writers like Browning can capture the essence of the human experience in such a profound and beautiful way. "The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church" is a testament to Browning's mastery of his craft and to the enduring power of poetry to touch the hearts and minds of people across generations.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church: A Masterpiece of Victorian Poetry
Robert Browning's "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church" is a classic example of Victorian poetry, which explores the themes of power, pride, and mortality. The poem is a dramatic monologue, in which the bishop, who is on his deathbed, orders his tomb to be built in the church of Saint Praxed. The poem is a powerful critique of the Catholic Church and its corrupt practices, as well as a meditation on the transience of human life.
The poem is set in the church of Saint Praxed, where the bishop is lying on his deathbed. He is surrounded by his family and his priests, who are all waiting for him to die. The bishop is a proud and arrogant man, who is obsessed with his own legacy. He wants to be remembered as a great bishop, and he believes that his tomb will be a testament to his greatness.
The bishop's pride is evident throughout the poem, as he orders his tomb to be built with the finest materials and the most elaborate decorations. He wants his tomb to be a work of art, a masterpiece that will outlast the ages. He orders his priests to carve his image on the tomb, so that future generations will know what he looked like. He also orders his tomb to be inscribed with his accomplishments, so that people will know what he achieved during his life.
The bishop's obsession with his own legacy is a reflection of the Victorian era, which was characterized by a cult of personality and a fascination with fame and fortune. The Victorian era was a time of great social change, as the middle class rose to power and the aristocracy began to decline. The bishop's desire to be remembered as a great man is a reflection of this social upheaval, as he tries to assert his power and authority in a changing world.
However, the bishop's pride is also his downfall, as he is blind to his own mortality. He believes that his tomb will last forever, and that his legacy will live on for all eternity. He is so obsessed with his own greatness that he fails to see the transience of human life. He is like a king who believes that he will rule forever, even though he knows that death is inevitable.
The bishop's blindness to his own mortality is a reflection of the Victorian era, which was characterized by a fear of death and a fascination with the afterlife. The Victorians believed in the immortality of the soul, and they were obsessed with the idea of heaven and hell. The bishop's belief in his own immortality is a reflection of this Victorian obsession with the afterlife, as he tries to assert his power over death itself.
The poem is also a powerful critique of the Catholic Church and its corrupt practices. The bishop is portrayed as a hypocrite, who preaches piety and humility, but who is himself consumed by pride and vanity. He is a symbol of the corruption that was rampant in the Catholic Church during the Victorian era, as priests and bishops used their power for personal gain.
The bishop's hypocrisy is evident in his treatment of his family and his priests. He is cruel to his family, and he treats his priests like servants. He is more concerned with his own legacy than with the welfare of those around him. He is a symbol of the corruption that was rampant in the Catholic Church during the Victorian era, as priests and bishops used their power for personal gain.
The poem is also a meditation on the transience of human life. The bishop's obsession with his own legacy is a reflection of the human desire for immortality, but it is also a reminder that all human achievements are ultimately fleeting. The bishop's tomb may be a work of art, but it will eventually crumble to dust, just like the bishop himself.
The poem is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry, which explores the themes of power, pride, and mortality. The bishop is a complex character, who embodies the contradictions of the Victorian era. He is a symbol of the corruption that was rampant in the Catholic Church, but he is also a reflection of the human desire for immortality. The poem is a powerful critique of the Victorian era, but it is also a meditation on the transience of human life. It is a work of art that will outlast the ages, just like the bishop's tomb.
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