Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
by Robert Browning
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Gr-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flower-pots, do!
- Chalk this up as one of the strangest openings to a poem ever. It starts not with a word but a sound: "G-r-r-r."
- The speaker is so angry, he can't even make words – he just growls.
- He sees someone passing and calls him his "heart's abhorrence" – abhorrence is a strong word for hatred. He must really hate this guy.
- But why does he hate him? The guy is just watering his flowers, minding his own business.
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!
- The speaker names the object of his "abhorrence": it's Brother Lawrence.
- "Brother" is a title for monks in the Catholic tradition, so this must be set in a monastery.
- Basically, the speaker is using a version of the old, "If looks could kill, he'd be dead" expression. He says that if hate could kill, Brother Lawrence would be dead.
- "God's blood" is an archaic oath, like "I swear."
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
Oh, that rose has prior claims--
- Here it seems like the speaker is actually answering something that Brother Lawrence has said to him ("What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?"), or maybe he's just imagining what he'd like to say.
- So Brother Lawrence needs to trim his myrtle-bush (a kind of flowering shrub), but the speaker says that a rose bush should be done first – it has the "prior claims."
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!
- The speaker again responds sarcastically to a request by Brother Lawrence to fill a "leaden vase" of flowers with more water.
- Again, though, we must assume that the speaker is only imagining what he'd like to say, because in the next line he says he'd like to see Brother Lawrence burn in hell.
- Jeez. What's with this speaker? Brother Lawrence is just watering his flowers!