Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Grammarian's Funeral of Robert Browning: Some Reflections

Robert Browning is one of my most favorite poets in English literature. This is a touching poem reflecting Browning’s admiration for Renaissance spirit. I studied this poem in the third year in university and I was deeply moved with this poem. This is one of the poems that has become a part of my life. It’s not that I recite it a lot or even read it a lot but I think of the poem ‘A Grammarian's Funeral’ a lot. Today, out of curiosity, I searched about it in Google and found very little discussion about it. Well, it disappointed me some as I expected that there would be a lot of discussion about the poem in Internet.

The poem opens a grave note:

Let us begin and carry up this corpse,

Singing together.

Leave we the common crofts, the vulgar thorpes

Each in its tether

Sleeping safe on the bosom of the plain,

Cared-for till cock-crow:

The students of the Grammarian are carrying his dead body and they are going to bury him on the hill. Well, they are not students but they are the disciples of the Grammarian. They respected the Grammarian despite the fact that he was not rich. This is interesting to me. Teachers are respected in all the ages although they don’t have a lot of wealth. Their wealth is their knowledge and with their knowledge, they can teach their students new things.

Another thing that attracts me of the poem ‘A Grammarian's Funeral’ is the fact that the Grammarian did not study anything that could make him rich. I mean he studied humanities not science or commerce. In our own age, studying humanities (or Arts) is not a cool thing in many parts of the world. The money is in science and in commerce. So, most students and their parents tend to neglect the subjects of humanities.

Now, take a look at the next few lines of the poem:

Look out if yonder be not day again

Rimming the rock-row!

That's the appropriate country; there, man's thought,

Rarer, intenser,

Self-gathered for an outbreak, as it ought,

Chafes in the censer.

Here, we can see a distinction drawn between ordinary people and the grammarian. The grammarian was a man of noble sprit and virtue and his place is surely not with the ordinary people. He was higher than others because he dedicated his life for knowledge. In our age, acquiring knowledge is a good thing. You can become rich and famous and even powerful and respectable with knowledge but at that time, there was hardly anything to gain by dedicating a life for knowledge. There was no research grant, no publishing deal or scholarship or teaching position for people like the grammarian. He does not mind the limitations and obstacles in life. He just knows that he has a mission in life and that is acquiring and imparting knowledge. It is mission, passion and perhaps religion. There is a sense of fulfillment through knowledge.

I will write more about this poem in this blog in the coming days. You can subscribe to the feed of the blog. I urge all of you to take part in the discussion about this poem.


  1. Anonymous8:26 PM

    i understand your point that the Grammarian feels a sense of accomplishment for his pain staking work, but surely Browning is not trying to admire this character but chastise his narrow-mindedness. We get the sense that the teacher had not infact achieved anything of importance when the pupil, despite trying to praise his teacher, accidently points out the flaws of the Grammarian's life saying, " ...youth was gone!" and similarly, "Oh, such a life as he resolved to live, when he had learned it, when he had gathered all books had to give!" In my opinion, the Grammarian was not so much a valiant and noble man as you perhaps suggested, but more someone who prepared for life without knowing how to live. Therefore, although the speaker talks in an admirable way of his teacher, i think Browning is subtly mocking his finicky ways.

  2. If im in the situation of the owner of this blog. I dont know how to post this kind of topic. he has a nice idea.

  3. Anonymous2:58 PM

    I think it is more in Browning's tastes to have a the narrator reveal more than he intends on a situation. While speaking highly of the grammarian, he does naively deconstructs him.

    I agree that it's a great, lingering poem!

  4. castleb7:53 AM

    What a pleasure to read discussion of Browning's poem. Despite the jogging rhythm that suggests the plodding, step-by-step climb to the burial site, the teasing ambivalence of "A Grammarian's Funeral" invites closer rereading. Is the tone serious or is it playful? Or is it both? Does Browning admire his grammarian's pursuit of learning or is he mocking pedantry. I like to think that he does both, gently, subtly. The poem "teases us out of thought as does eternity." Thank you for inviting another look at this enigmatic poem.

  5. Anonymous8:44 PM

    This is reall mysterious to all

  6. grammarian is very close to the Buddhism spirit i.e. through knowledge one can get salvation and happiness can be achieved only through conquering the pain and problems not through comfort and ease.grammarian was truly a nice person.

  7. Anonymous4:02 PM

    what makes poetry beautiful is because it is subjective giving us a license to interpret our own views. With regard to this poem i personally believe that there is a paradox from the the fact that the grammarian wants to know how to live before actually living which we see at the end he never really lived metaphorically but indulges in studying.

  8. Anonymous10:38 AM

    The Gramerian's uestion_What about the ECLITIC't"'? he was too minut in details perhaps irrelevant and not useful at all.
    FASTIDIOUS.Possibe-sarcastic -that too.MYSTERIOUS?
    these are something to ponder