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Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

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.

Lines 1-2

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.

Lines 3-4

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."

Lines 5-6

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."

Lines 7-8

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!

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