Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
by Robert Browning
Eating and Food
Several stanzas of this poem are explicitly about eating and drinking, and the speaker clearly has strongly held opinions about the right and wrong way to eat, what to eat and when, and how to behave at the dinner table. In Western poetry, the act of eating together is often symbolic of the Last Supper of the Christian tradition: the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples before he died. Fruit and gardens pack a big symbolic punch in the Judeo-Christian tradition (Garden of Eden and the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, anyone?) so whenever you see a poem with fruit in a garden in the Western literary tradition, stop and think about if there's some kind of tacit allusion to the Garden of Eden hidden away in there.
The cloister here is hardly a paradise, and the monks at dinner hardly seem like the disciples at the last supper... unless the speaker is meant to represent the serpent in the Garden of Eden, or Judas at the Last Supper. What do you think?
- Line 9: These are monks sharing a meal together, but there's not a lot of solemnity or any reference to the Last Supper – instead, the speaker silently seethes, loathing Brother Lawrence's every word. The lack of a reference to the Last Supper actually might be telling us something here.
- Lines 17-24: The speaker describes the meticulous care with which Brother Lawrence washes his platter, spoon, and goblet after the meal. Sure, monks are supposed to keep their belongings clean and tidy, but the speaker suggests that Brother Lawrence is too careful – that he keeps his belongings all shiny out of pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins for devout Catholics.
- Lines 41-44: The speaker somehow manages to turn Brother Lawrence's offer to share his melon crop into something bad: his "so nice!" just drips with irony – clearly he means the opposite.