[Credits and thanks: This essay was formatted and submitted for Mr. Patterson by Professor Patricia Craddock of the English Department at the University of Florida.]
ew methods of expression are as powerful as the language of rage. When artfully used, it can be a true indicator of heightened emotion. In this sense, rage means not only violent anger but extreme intensity as well. Therefore, many different emotions can reveal themselves in the guise of rage. In Robert Browning's "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" and Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Locksley Hall," this type of expression is evident. Yet, while both works play off rage, the first poem deals with an expression of hatred where the second is mainly a discourse of shock. Therefore, the paths that rage takes in these works are different. Leading the poems along these differing paths is a wide range of structural devices such as lists, punctuation, and stanzaic construction as well as a rich variety of images, comparisons, and intonations. As a whole, these forms and their functions determine the nature of the works.
"Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," a poem of immense hatred, reveals that emotion in the first two lines. "Gr-r-r — there go my heart's abhorrence!/ Water your damned flowerpots, do!" A certain bestiality, brought on by intense dislike, reigns in the speaker of these lines. In fact, his soliloquy is mainly a fit of rage brought on by this deeply rooted hatred. The very structure of the work reveals this hatred.
The poem is arranged as a pair of lists, each with its own function. After a brief opening where the narrator reveals his bitter feelings, he presents a list of grievances against the hated Brother Lawrence. His grievances are petty, ranging from indignation at the way Lawrence speaks of his flowers (5) to the brother's frivolous table conversation (9-16) to his suspected lechery and poor table manners (17-40).
The first list is disturbing, but it is nothing compared to the second list. The speaker should be a religious man, but here he explores several paths to damnation to which he would expose Lawrence (49-70). His internal nature is the complete opposite of his external appearance.
These lists give an important clue to the narrator's mental state. It takes time to compose lists and even more time to organize them. Yet the speaker has both lists readily available to release in his bitter outburst. This indicates an enduring hatred and not a passing annoyance. He hates Lawrence to the bone for reasons that seem frivolous to an outside observer. It is this hatred that his rage works off of.
The punctuation of the poem emphasizes the strength of his feelings. Exclamation points are common such as in the narrator's many caustic explosions aimed at Lawrence. "Hell dry you up with its flames!" (8) Such punctuation also occurs where the speaker ridicules his rival. "And a goblet for ourself/. . . Marked with L. for our initial!/ (He-he! There his lily snaps!)" (20-24) Like the lists, these exclamations occur regularly throughout the piece, indicating that the speaker's bitter emotion never slackens.
Another telling form of punctuation is the question mark. As with the exclamation point, it occurs throughout the poem. However, in this poem, the question marks are interesting in that they are usually not used to ask a question but to heighten sarcasm. "What? your myrtle bush wants trimming?/ Oh that rose has prior claims/ Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?" (5-7) The speaker couldn't care less about Lawrence's flowers. His real aim is to ridicule and to express his disgust. The question marks serve to give the reader a thin disguise of his feelings.
The closeness of the two marks of punctuation is most clear when they are used together. "Oh, those melons? If he's able/ We're to have a feast! so nice!" (41-42) Here, both the exclamation point and the question mark show the same sarcasm. This sarcasm emphasizes the deep hatred of the speaker for Lawrence. Sarcasm is expressed in other ways as well. For example, the narrator often uses the first-person plural when speaking of Lawrence:
Whew! We'll have our platter burnished,
Laid with care on our own shelf!
With a fire-new spoon we're furnished,
And a goblet for ourself. [17-20]
Using "we" to refer to his enemy, the speaker expresses more of the sins that he believes the brother would commit without actually knowing Lawrence's mind. However, the "we" form makes it seem as if he has such knowledge. The speaker uses this supposed knowledge against Brother Lawrence, providing more fodder for his lists of hatred.
Considering that the narrator's rage is founded purely on a carnal emotion such as hatred, one can easily think of him as an animal. As we have seen, the poem begins with a bestial "Gr-r-r." Another "Gr-r-r" marks the end of the work. Both instances reinforce the reader's suspicion of his carnal nature. Certain oaths the speaker gives have the same effect. "God's blood, would not mine [hate] kill you!" (4)
But bestiality is only a part of what makes his hatred so disturbing. The narrator is theologically learned. As he himself reveals, he has read enough to know where each of the twenty-nine damnations are in Galatians. (49-52) He also knows French and enough Latin to help him in his monastic way of life. This learning seems out of place alongside of a bestial nature. However, his education has not diminished his hatred. It simply provides a more elevated means of expressing it. His use of comparisons proves this point.
"--Can't I see his dead eye glow,/ Bright as 'twere a Barbary corsair's?" (30-31) This simile, focusing on Lawrence's supposed lechery, expresses the speaker's feelings louder than any mere statement could. His condemnation does not stop there but is developed further in other comparisons that put Lawrence's piety in question. The hating man, in his dispensation of justice, would like to send Lawrence "Off to hell, a Manichee." (56) He also portrays Lawrence as a pagan who is worse than an Arian (39).
The narrator's learning is again displayed where the his elevated speech puts an almost tangible wall between him and Lawrence. "Knife and fork he never lays/ Cross-wise, to my recollection,/ As do I, in Jesu's praise." (34-36) The narrator doesn't use the more common "As I do," but uses the anastrophe "As do I." The barrier he creates emphasizes the narrator's perceived elevation over Lawrence.
It is in this belief of superiority that the ultimate irony of the work lies. The narrator, despite his disapproval of Lawrence's frivolity (and, perhaps, because of it) is lower than Lawrence in spirituality. He actually feels hatred. He feels it so strongly that he can organize everything he hates about Lawrence into a list. He feels it so strongly that he is willing to take the ultimate risk and gamble on his soul with Satan just to eliminate his enemy. (65-68) His hatred keeps him from seeing that the very sins with which he hopes to damn Lawrence come from within his own experience. It is the narrator who knows where the damnations are in Galatians. The narrator is also the owner of the "scrofulous French novel" (57) that simply to look at would bring damnation. In sum, if anyone's soul lies on soft ground, it is the narrator's.
As his forceful monologue shows, hatred has twisted the speaker. His rage is not multifaceted, but narrow, tainted by that one emotion. Every line of the poem reveals this fact, but it is crystallized by his mutilated praise of the Virgin Mary. Instead of the proper, "Ave, Maria, gratia plena," the speaker delivers a twisted form of the phrase: "Plena gratiâ/ Ave, Virgo!" (71-72) His narrow-minded hatred, so well expressed in a fit of rage, proves that he is not holy now, if he ever was.
Just as in "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" reveals a speaker who is bound by rage. Yet the second poem contains a crucial difference. The narrator takes on many, disorganized fits of emotion as opposed to one organized fit in Browning's poem. He expresses states ranging from pure anger to actual self-analysis. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that both speeches are made in a short time period. Therefore, this variety doesn't come from a larger time frame but from the actual complexity of the speaker's thoughts.
The poem's structure exhibits the speaker's incoherence. The narrator, having just been rejected by his lover, gives a discourse of shock. In keeping with this shock, he moves from one thought to the next and then back again. These vacillations require a more complex structure than that in Browning's poem of single-minded rage. The two-lined rhyming stanzas give the impression that what the narrator says is spur of the moment as opposed to the well-thought-out lists in "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister." Therefore, rage is shown stanzaically as well as by devices within the text.
The poem begins with a few lines expressing the speaker's agitation. One way this upset is shown is through the use of several commas to break up the lines. "'Tis the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call."(3) This choppy method of expression shows itself whenever the speaker returns to a state of severe agitation. It contrasts with the lucid lines of the speaker in "Soliloquy" that indicate the permanence of the other narrator's rage.
After this choppy opening, the "Locksley Hall" speaker drifts into a description of what he believes were better days. Focused on the past, his words assume an air of softness, and his expressions become more flowing. "Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,/Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the west." (6-7) The slowly sloping Orion and "the Pleiads, rising through the mellow shade," glittering "like a swarm of fireflies"(9-10) give a certain tranquillity to the past. The speaker clearly sees the past, in one sense, as beneficent.
He goes on to make other references to this kinder time. For example, the four-line repetition of "In the spring" (17-20) mixed with images of fruitful birds expresses the fertility of youth. Yet the speaker presents contrasts to show that, while his youth was fertile, it was not realistic. Remembering how he consumed "the fairy tales of science and the long result of time" (12) he expresses a belief that he was naïve.
Already, in the first section of the poem, the narrator has expressed a range of emotion unrivaled by the man of the cloister. As the stanzas show, he is truly upset, but as the text shows, his emotions are not confined to hatred. He is changeable. This becomes obvious as the narrator returns to the present. From the softness of the past, his anger immediately mounts to full force. With it his external agitation mounts as well.
"O my cousin, shallow-hearted! O my Amy, mine no more!/ O the dreary, dreary moorland! O the barren, barren shore!" (39-40) With these lines, the speaker comes out of the past and back to the present. In addition to being choppy, each sentence is punctuated with an exclamation point, emphasizing the speaker's agitation. Of particular interest are the words "dreary" and "barren." Both words receive additional stress through repetition. They also contrast the image of youthful fertility with the speaker's present desolation.
These two lines show a complete turnaround in thought. The many exclamation points in the next few lines reveal an outburst of emotion brought on by the present. As we have seen, exclamations occur in"Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" as well, but they are evenly distributed throughout the work. In contrast, in "Locksley Hall," they are held to these sudden bursts, once again indicating the changeability of Tennyson's narrator in comparison with Browning's. Yet Tennyson's narrator is not free from bitterness. In his return to the present, he expends several lines fantasizing about his Amy's punishment. In a cruel metaphor, he imagines "what is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay." (47-48) Here, the personification of Amy's finer qualities expresses his desired degradation of her character.
His moments of bitterness highlight the narrator's use of one of the most common devices in "Soliloquy." Like the cloister man, he uses sarcasm to make his points even more bitter than they already are. "What is this? His eyes are heavy; think not they are glazed with wine./ Go to him, it is thy duty; kiss him, take his hand in thine." (51-52) Like the cloister man, his bitterness is shocking, but unlike the first narrator, it hides another aspect of his character.
He doesn't know how he should handle himself in his changed world. "Where is comfort? in division of the records of the mind?/ Can I part her from herself, and love her, as I knew her, kind?" (69-70) This true uncertainty is unknown by the monastery man. Here, the question marks actually indicate questions as opposed to further sarcasms.
However, the narrator is not through with his vacillations. As he returns to fantasizing about Amy's unhappy future he calls up ghostly images to describe her fate. "Then a hand shall pass before thee, pointing to his drunken sleep." (81) She is to be troubled by "phantom years" whispering, "Never, never." (83) These images, along with other, more exotic ones that emerge later in the text, show an interesting aspect of the narrator. He is inclined to fantasy. With his active imagination, he creates almost tangible images of the future. In Amy's case, painting her in a situation where she is stuck with a faithless husband and a needy child helps him deal with his loss.
The man's thoughts once again change direction. Personifying the past, he appeals for relief. "Hide me from my deep emotion, O thou wondrous Mother-Age!" (108) He also knows that he has "but an angry fancy." (102) The word, "fancy," is a significant one. The speaker uses it at least four times. Paired with fantastic images like his heavenly "argosies of magic sails," (121) it shows, without a doubt, his fanciful state of mind.
Furthermore, his appeal to the Mother Age sets a common point between him and the cloister man. Neither character believes his problem comes from within. Both would look to outside sources for relief from an outside problem — the cloister man to Satan and the "Locksley Hall" narrator to a happier past or a fantasized future. In fact, the second narrator goes out of his way to rationalize his situation and remove himself from blame. Metaphorically linking himself to wisdom (141), he claims to have learned from his rejection. Then, using repetition to stress his point, he presents what is, in his mind, the real danger to avoid: "Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman's pleasure, woman's pain." (149)
Has he really learned from his experiences? Of course not. After calling himself back from a fantasy of creating his own race in "summer isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea," (164) he, like the enraged man in Browning's poem, calls down fire to destroy the thing he hates most (193). Locksley Hall, turned a place of betrayal, would be burned to ash if he had his say. Setting out for a world that he only knows from fantasy, he carelessly leaves all behind.
Comparing "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" and "Locksley Hall" is not so simple as saying that both are poems in which the discourse of rage plays a key part. It is true that the first poem has a much narrower expression of rage than the second. "Soliloquy," using lists, exclamations, sarcasm, and comparisons, is devoted to pure hatred. "Locksley Hall," with its repetition, vacillations, choppiness, imagery, and metaphor, shows how rage can encompass a much wider set of feelings than hatred alone. But, regardless of the way in which they chose to express it in their works, we can clearly see that both Browning and Tennyson had an equally acute understanding of the language of rage.
Bibliographical note: Both poems are cited by line number from Abrams, M. H., et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2. Sixth Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993, pp. 1188-90 and 1073-79.
Last modified August 2003
Last modified 8 June 2007