A hypermedia edition of Robert Browning's
THE BISHOP ORDERS HIS TOMB AT SAINT PRAXED'S CHURCH
Stan Vickers found the images of the Tomb of Bishop
William of Wykeham on Dr.
Alison Stones' "Images
Of Medieval Art and Architecture: England- Winchester Cathedral"
page; Larry Ridley supplied scanned photographs of the
Church of Santa Prassede and of the "Jesu church" (Il Gesù), which
have been linked
to the lines mentioning these churches, below.
The text of the poem has
been taken from the University of Toronto's on-line
Publication Date: Hood's Magazine March 1845
Ed. (text): F. E. L. Priestley; (e-text): I. Lancashire.
Rep. Poetry: 3RP.3.113.
1 Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!
2 Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back?
3 Nephews--sons mine . . . ah God, I know not! Well--
4 She, men would have to be your mother once,
5 Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she was!
6 What's done is done, and she is dead beside,
7 Dead long ago, and I am Bishop since,
8 And as she died so must we die ourselves,
9 And thence ye may perceive the world's a dream.
10 Life, how and what is it? As here I lie
11 In this state-chamber, dying by degrees,
12 Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask
13 "Do I live, am I dead?" Peace, peace seems all.
14 Saint Praxed's ever was the church for peace;
15 And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought
16 With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know:
17 --Old Gandolf cozened me, despite my care;
18 Shrewd was that snatch from out the corner South
19 He graced his carrion with, God curse the same!
20 Yet still my niche is not so cramped but thence
21 One sees the pulpit o' the epistle-side,
22 And somewhat of the choir, those silent seats,
23 And up into the aery dome where live
24 The angels, and a sunbeam's sure to lurk:
25 And I shall fill my slab of basalt there,
26 And 'neath my tabernacle take my rest,
27 With those nine columns round me, two and two,
28 The odd one at my feet where Anselm stands:
29 Peach-blossom marble all, the rare, the ripe
30 As fresh-poured red wine of a mighty pulse.
31 --Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone,
32 Put me where I may look at him! True peach,
33 Rosy and flawless: how I earned the prize!
34 Draw close: that conflagration of my church
35 --What then? So much was saved if aught were missed!
36 My sons, ye would not be my death? Go dig
37 The white-grape vineyard where the oil-press stood,
38 Drop water gently till the surface sink,
39 And if ye find . . . Ah God, I know not, I! ...
40 Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves soft,
41 And corded up in a tight olive-frail,
42 Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli,
43 Big as a Jew's head cut off at the nape,
44 Blue as a vein o'er the Madonna's breast ...
45 Sons, all have I bequeathed you, villas, all,
46 That brave Frascati villa with its bath,
47 So, let the blue lump poise between my knees,
48 Like God the Father's globe on both His hands
49 Ye worship in the Jesu Church so gay,
50 For Gandolf shall not choose but see and burst!
51 Swift as a weaver's shuttle fleet our years:
52 Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?
53 Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black--
54 'Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else
55 Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath?
56 The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me,
57 Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance
58 Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so,
59 The Saviour at his sermon on the mount,
60 Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan
61 Ready to twitch the Nymph's last garment off,
62 And Moses with the tables . . . but I know
63 Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee,
64 Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah, ye hope
65 To revel down my villas while I gasp
66 Bricked o'er with beggar's mouldy
67 Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at!
68 Nay, boys, ye love me--all of jasper, then!
69 'Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve.
70 My bath must needs be left behind, alas!
71 One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut,
72 There's plenty jasper somewhere in the world--
73 And have I not Saint Praxed's ear to pray
74 Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts,
75 And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?
76 --That's if ye carve my epitaph aright,
77 Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully's every word,
78 No gaudy ware like Gandolf's second line--
79 Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need!
80 And then how I shall lie through centuries,
81 And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
82 And see God made and eaten all
83 And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
84 Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!
85 For as I lie here, hours of the dead night,
86 Dying in state and by such slow degrees,
87 I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,
88 And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point,
89 And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop
90 Into great laps and folds of sculptor's-work:
91 And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts
92 Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,
93 About the life before I lived this life,
94 And this life too, popes, cardinals and priests,
95 Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount,
96 Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes,
97 And new-found agate urns as fresh as day,
98 And marble's language, Latin pure, discreet,
99 --Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our friend?
100 No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best!
101 Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage.
102 All lapis, all, sons! Else I give the Pope
103 My villas! Will ye ever eat my heart?
104 Ever your eyes were as a lizard's quick,
105 They glitter like your mother's for my soul,
106 Or ye would heighten my impoverished frieze,
107 Piece out its starved design, and fill my vase
108 With grapes, and add a vizor and a Term,
109 And to the tripod ye would tie a lynx
110 That in his struggle throws the thyrsus down,
111 To comfort me on my entablature
112 Whereon I am to lie till I must ask
113 "Do I live, am I dead?" There, leave me, there!
114 For ye have stabbed me with ingratitude
115 To death--ye wish it--God, ye wish it! Stone--
116 Gritstone, a-crumble! Clammy squares which sweat
117 As if the corpse they keep were oozing through--
118 And no more lapis to delight the world!
119 Well, go! I bless ye. Fewer tapers there,
120 But in a row: and, going, turn your backs
121 --Ay, like departing altar-ministrants,
122 And leave me in my church, the church for peace,
123 That I may watch at leisure if he leers--
124 Old Gandolf, at me, from his onion-stone,
125 As still he envied me, so fair she was!
Credits and Copyright
Together with the editors, the Department of English (University of Toronto),
and the University of Toronto Press, the following individuals share copyright
for the work that went into this edition:
- Screen Design (Electronic Edition):
- Sian Meikle (University of Toronto Library)
- Sharine Leung (Centre for Computing in the Humanities)
- Hypermedia additions:
- See the Robert Browning
Return to the Robert Browning
Send comments or suggestions to Glenn Everett.