Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
There's a great text in Galatians,
Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
One sure, if another fails;
If I trip him just a-dying,
Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
Off to hell, a Manichee?
- The speaker now refers to a text in the book of Galatians (a book of the Christian New Testament) that outlines "twenty-nine distinct damnations," or 29 different ways of earning yourself a one-way trip to hell.
- Don't bother looking for it in a Bible, though – it's a made-up text. The speaker implies that it's hard to find ("once you trip on it"), and scholars have been debating about where Browning got this for ages!
- The speaker is excited about his discovery of these "twenty-nine damnations" because he can use them to try and "trip" Brother Lawrence just before death and get him condemned to hell.
- (According to Catholic doctrine at this time, if you died without confessing a major sin, you'd be condemned to hell.)
- The speaker is hoping to trick Brother Lawrence into saying or doing something that will get him damned as a "Manichee," or a heretic.