A Grammarian's Funeral

By Robert Browning 1812–1889 Robert Browning

Shortly after the Revival of Learning in Europe

Let us begin and carry up this corpse,
         Singing together.
Leave we the common crofts, the vulgar thorpes
         Each in its tether
Sleeping safe on the bosom of the plain,
         Cared-for till cock-crow:
Look out if yonder be not day again
         Rimming the rock-row!
That's the appropriate country; there, man's thought,
         Rarer, intenser,
Self-gathered for an outbreak, as it ought,
         Chafes in the censer.
Leave we the unlettered plain its herd and crop;
         Seek we sepulture
On a tall mountain, citied to the top,
         Crowded with culture!
All the peaks soar, but one the rest excels;
         Clouds overcome it;
No! yonder sparkle is the citadel's
         Circling its summit.
Thither our path lies; wind we up the heights:
         Wait ye the warning?
Our low life was the level's and the night's;
         He's for the morning.
Step to a tune, square chests, erect each head,
         'Ware the beholders!
This is our master, famous, calm and dead,
         Borne on our shoulders.

   Sleep, crop and herd! sleep, darkling thorpe and croft,
         Safe from the weather!
He, whom we convoy to his grave aloft,
         Singing together,
He was a man born with thy face and throat,
         Lyric Apollo!
Long he lived nameless: how should spring take note
         Winter would follow?
Till lo, the little touch, and youth was gone!
         Cramped and diminished,
Moaned he, "New measures, other feet anon!
         My dance is finished"?
No, that's the world's way: (keep the mountain-side,
         Make for the city!)
He knew the signal, and stepped on with pride
          Over men's pity;
Left play for work, and grappled with the world
          Bent on escaping:
"What's in the scroll," quoth he, "thou keepest furled
          Show me their shaping,
Theirs who most studied man, the bard and sage,
          Give!" So, he gowned him,
Straight got by heart that book to its last page:
          Learned, we found him.
Yea, but we found him bald too, eyes like lead,
          Accents uncertain:
"Time to taste life," another would have said,
          "Up with the curtain!"
This man said rather, "Actual life comes next?
          Patience a moment!
Grant I have mastered learning's crabbed text,
          Still there's the comment.
Let me know all! Prate not of most or least,
          Painful or easy!
Even to the crumbs I'd fain eat up the feast,
          Ay, nor feel queasy."
Oh, such a life as he resolved to live,
          When he had learned it,
When he had gathered all books had to give!
          Sooner, he spurned it.
Image the whole, then execute the parts
          Fancy the fabric
Quite, ere you build, ere steel strike fire from quartz,
          Ere mortar dab brick!

    (Here's the town-gate reached: there's the market-place
          Gaping before us.)
Yea, this in him was the peculiar grace
          (Hearten our chorus!)
That before living he'd learn how to live
          No end to learning:
Earn the means first   God surely will contrive
          Use for our earning.
Others mistrust and say, "But time escapes:
          Live now or never!"
He said, "What's time? Leave Now for dogs and apes!
          Man has Forever."
Back to his book then: deeper drooped his head:
          Calculus racked him:
Leaden before, his eyes grew dross of lead:
          Tussis attacked him.
"Now, master, take a little rest!" not he!
          (Caution redoubled
Step two abreast, the way winds narrowly!)
          Not a whit troubled,
Back to his studies, fresher than at first,
          Fierce as a dragon
He (soul-hydroptic with a sacred thirst)
          Sucked at the flagon.
Oh, if we draw a circle premature,
          Heedless of far gain,
Greedy for quick returns of profit, sure
          Bad is our bargain!
Was it not great? did not he throw on God,
          (He loves the burthen)
God's task to make the heavenly period
          Perfect the earthen?
Did not he magnify the mind, show clear
          Just what it all meant?
He would not discount life, as fools do here,
          Paid by instalment.
He ventured neck or nothing heaven's success
          Found, or earth's failure:
"Wilt thou trust death or not?" He answered "Yes:
          Hence with life's pale lure!"
That low man seeks a little thing to do,
          Sees it and does it:
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
          Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,
          His hundred's soon hit:
This high man, aiming at a million,
          Misses an unit.
That, has the world here   should he need the next,
          Let the world mind him!
This, throws himself on God, and unperplexed
          Seeking shall find him.
So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
          Ground he at grammar;
Still, thro' the rattle, parts of speech were rife:
          While he could stammer
He settled Hoti's business let it be!
          Properly based Oun
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De,
          Dead from the waist down.
Well, here's the platform, here's the proper place:
          Hail to your purlieus,
All ye highfliers of the feathered race,
          Swallows and curlews!
Here's the top-peak; the multitude below
          Live, for they can, there:
This man decided not to Live but Know
          Bury this man there?
Here   here's his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
          Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
          Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects:
          Loftily lying,
Leave him   still loftier than the world suspects,
          Living and dying.

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Poet Robert Browning 1812–1889

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Sciences, Living, School & Learning, Activities, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Death

Occasions Funerals

Poetic Terms Alliteration, Elegy, Dramatic Monologue

 Robert  Browning

Biography

Although the early part of Robert Browning’s creative life was spent in comparative obscurity, he has come to be regarded as one of the most important poets of the Victorian period. His dramatic monologues and the psycho-historical epic The Ring and the Book (1868-1869), a novel in verse, have established him as a major figure in the history of English poetry. His claim to attention as a children’s writer is more modest, resting . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Sciences, Living, School & Learning, Activities, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Death

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Alliteration, Elegy, Dramatic Monologue

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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