May 7: Too easy

Two Browning poems today, one of which ("My Last Duchess") had already been assigned, not just in 10th grade, but also five weeks ago. 50 volumes of the richness of our Western Civilization and they assign they same thing twice. (And it's Browning.) Could it be that I'm taking this Daily Reading Guide more seriously than the low-level functionary who compiled it back in 1910 -- a guy who probably didn't even own more than two detachable collars?


Maybe if you were a little more diligent about your compiling, young Throckmorton, you'd have one of these for every day of the week!

Anyways, that leaves "The Bishop Orders His Tomb At St. Praxed's Church, Rome, 15--", and, as I have occasionally found, I am a little tongue-tied. I find the great works of literature hard to talk about, because what can I say that Internet crib notes can't say better?

I will say this: I can't decide whether it's supposed to be satire or not, or rather, how satirical it's supposed to be. The story, if you will, of the poem, is that one of these vainglorious Italian (of course! I think an Englishman is supposed to think) bishops tries to get his sons to order the nice marble for his tomb. Honestly it strikes me as a little leaden:

Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years:
Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?
Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black—
’Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else
Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath?
The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me.

Get it? It couldn't be less like what Jesus was getting at! And he has kids too -- a nominal celibate! It's about time the 16th century got what's coming to it.

But maybe it just seems heavy-handed because I live in a satire-saturated environment, therefore I've built up too much of a resistance to it. Maybe it was a super-brave move (although is Victorian England known for its reverence of the Papists? I don't know.)
But maybe the brave part is Browning's willingness to write in the voice of douchebags (cf. "My Last Duchess"). In The Voices Of Douchebags, actually, would be a great title for a book of poems.

I should note, also, that the poem is fatally crippled by the fact that the rival of bishop who narrates the poem is named "Gandolf." How unfortunate for Browning! At least one of the bishop's kids isn't named "Frodo."

0 comments: