'Holy -Cross Day' by Robert Browning

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[``Now was come about Holy-Cross Day,
and now must my lord preach his first sermon
to the Jews: as it was of old cared for in tine
merciful bowels of the Church, that, so to
speak, a crumb at least from her conspicuous
table here in Rome should be, though but
once yearly, cast to the famishing dogs, under-trampled
and bespitten-upon beneath the feet
of the guests.And a moving sight in truth,
this, of so many of the besotted blind restif
and ready-to-perish Hebrews! now maternally
brought---nay (for He saith, `Compel them
to come in') haled, as it were, by the head and
hair, and against their obstinate hearts, to partake
of the heavenly grace.What awakening,
what striving with tears, what working of a
yeasty conscience!Nor was my lord wanting
to himself on so apt an occasion; witness
the abundance of conversions which did incontinently
reward him: though not to my
lord be altogether the glory.''---_Diary by the
Bishop's Secretary,_ 1600.]

What the Jews really said, on thus being
driven to church, was rather to this effect:---


Fee, faw, fum! bubble and squeak!
Blessedest Thursday's the fat of the week.
Rumble and tumble, sleek and rough,
Stinking and savoury, simug and gruff,
Take the church-road, for the bell's due chime
Gives us the summons---'tis sermon-time!


Bob, here's Barnabas!Job, that's you?
Up stumps Solomon---bustling too?
Shame, man! greedy beyond your years
To handsel the bishop's shaving-shears?
Fair play's a jewel!Leave friends in the lurch?
Stand on a line ere you start for the church!


Higgledy piggledy, packed we lie,
Rats in a hamper, swine in a stye,
Wasps in a bottle, frogs in a sieve,
Worms in a carcase, fleas in a sleeve.
Hist! square shoulders, settle your thumbs
And buzz for the bishop---here he comes.


Bow, wow, wow---a bone for the dog!
I liken his Grace to an acorned hog.
What, a boy at his side, with the bloom of a lass,
To help and handle my lord's hour-glass!
Didst ever behold so lithe a chine?
His cheek hath laps like a fresh-singed swine.


Aaron's asleep---shove hip to haunch,
Or somebody deal him a dig in the paunch!
Look at the purse with the tassel and knob,
And the gown with the angel and thingumbob!
What's he at, quotha? reading his text!
Now you've his curtsey---and what comes next?


See to our converts---you doomed black dozen---
No stealing away---nor cog nor cozen!
You five, that were thieves, deserve it fairly;
You seven, that were beggars, will live less sparely;
You took your turn and dipped in the hat,
Got fortune---and fortune gets you; mind that!


Give your first groan---compunction's at work;
And soft! from a Jew you mount to a Turk.
Lo, Micah,---the selfsame beard on chin
He was four times already converted in!
Here's a knife, clip quick---it's a sign of grace---
Or he ruins us all with his hanging-face.


Whom now is the bishop a-leering at?
I know a point where his text falls pat.
I'll tell him to-morrow, a word just now
Went to my heart and made me vow
I meddle no more with the worst of trades---
Let somebody else pay his serenades.


Groan all together now, whee-hee-hee!
It's a-work, it's a-work, ah, woe is me!
It began, when a herd of us, picked and placed,
Were spurred through the Corso, stripped to the waist;
Jew brutes, with sweat and blood well spent
To usher in worthily Christian Lent.


It grew, when the hangman entered our bounds,
Yelled, pricked us out to his church like hounds:
It got to a pitch, when the hand indeed
Which gutted my purse would throttle my creed:
And it overflows when, to even the odd,
Men I helped to their sins help me to their God.


But now, while the scapegoats leave our flock,
And the rest sit silent and count the clock,
Since forced to muse the appointed time
On these precious facts and truths sublime,---
Let us fitly ennploy it, under our breath,
In saying Ben Ezra's Song of Death.


For Rabbi Ben Ezra, the night he died,
Called sons and sons' sons to his side,
And spoke, ``This world has been harsh and strange;
``Something is wrong: there needeth a change.
``But what, or where? at the last or first?
``In one point only we sinned, at worst.


``The Lord will have mercy on Jacob yet,
``And again in his border see Israel set.
``When Judah beholds Jerusalem,
``The stranger-seed shall be joined to them:
``To Jacob's House shall the Gentiles cleave.
``So the Prophet saith and his sons believe.


``Ay, the children of the chosen race
``Shall carry and bring them to their place:
``In the land of the Lord shall lead the same,
``Bondsmen and handmaids.Who shall blame,
``When the slaves enslave, the oppressed ones o'er
``The oppressor triumph for evermore?


``God spoke, and gave us the word to keep,
``Bade never fold the hands nor sleep
``'Mid a faithless world,---at watch and ward,
``Till Christ at the end relieve our guard.
``By His servant Moses the watch was set:
``Though near upon cock-crow, we keep it yet.


``Thou! if thou wast He, who at mid-watch came,
``By the starlight, naming a dubious name!
``And if, too heavy with sleep---too rash
``With fear---O Thou, if that martyr-gash
``Fell on Thee coming to take thine own,
``And we gave the Cross, when we owed the Throne---


``Thou art the Judge.We are bruised thus.
``But, the Judgment over, join sides with us!
``Thine too is the cause! and not more thine
``Than ours, is the work of these dogs and swine,
``Whose life laughs through and spits at their creed!
``Who maintain Thee in word, and defy Thee in deed!


``We withstood Christ then?Be mindful how
``At least we withstand Barabbas now!
``Was our outrage sore?But the worst we spared,
``To have called these---Christians, had we dared!
``Let defiance to them pay mistrust of Thee,
``And Rome make amends for Calvary!


``By the torture, prolonged from age to age,
``By the infamy, Israel's heritage,
``By the Ghetto's plague, by the garb's disgrace,
``By the badge of shame, by the felon's place,
``By the branding-tool, the bloody whip,
``And the summons to Christian fellowship,---


``We boast our proof that at least the Jew
``Would wrest Christ's name from the Devil's crew.
``Thy face took never so deep a shade
``But we fought them in it, God our aid!
``A trophy to bear, as we marchs, thy band,
``South, East, and on to the Pleasant Land!''

[_Pope Gregory XVI. abolished this bad
business of the Sermon._---R. B.]

Editor 1 Interpretation

Holy-Cross Day by Robert Browning: A Masterpiece in Dramatic Monologue

As a literary form, dramatic monologue is a powerful tool for exploring the depths of human nature, revealing the hidden motivations and desires of the speaker through their words and actions. Robert Browning, one of the greatest poets of Victorian England, was a master of the dramatic monologue, and his poem "Holy-Cross Day" is a prime example of his skill in this genre. In this essay, we will delve into the complexities of this poem, exploring its themes, imagery, and language, and analyzing the character of the speaker and the dramatic situation he finds himself in.

The Poem: An Overview

"Holy-Cross Day" is a poem of 103 lines, divided into three unequal sections. The poem is written in rhymed couplets, with occasional variations in rhyme scheme, such as ABAB and AABB. The speaker of the poem is a monk who witnesses the desecration of the cross on Holy-Cross Day, a day that is sacred to Christians as a symbol of their faith. The monk is outraged by this act of sacrilege and seeks revenge against the perpetrators. As the poem progresses, however, we see the monk's motivations and character revealed, and we come to question his moral authority and his true devotion to his faith.

Themes: Power, Revenge, and Hypocrisy

At its core, "Holy-Cross Day" is a poem about power, revenge, and hypocrisy. The desecration of the cross is an act of power, a way for the perpetrators to assert their dominance over the monk and his religious community. The monk, in turn, seeks revenge against the perpetrators, using his own power as a member of the church to punish them. But as the poem unfolds, we see that the monk's motivations are not purely religious or moral; he is also driven by a desire for personal glory and recognition. He revels in the attention he receives from his fellow monks and the townspeople, and he takes pleasure in the thought of punishing the evildoers. This desire for power and recognition is at odds with his professed devotion to his faith, and it raises questions about the true nature of his morality.

The theme of hypocrisy is also central to the poem. The monk claims to be a devout follower of Christ, but his actions are motivated by revenge and personal gain. He uses his position in the church to wield power over others, but he does not live up to the standards of morality and compassion that his faith demands. This hypocrisy is highlighted in the final lines of the poem, when the monk's true nature is revealed.

Imagery and Language: Dark and Foreboding

The imagery and language of "Holy-Cross Day" are dark and foreboding, reflecting the serious nature of the subject matter. The poem is filled with references to death, blood, and violence, creating a sense of impending doom. The cross, which is the central symbol of the poem, is depicted as a bloody and mutilated object, emphasizing the horror of its desecration. The language used to describe the cross is vivid and visceral, with words such as "gashed" and "wounded" creating a sense of physical pain.

The language used to describe the monk's revenge is similarly violent and brutal. He speaks of "dragging" the perpetrators to justice and "crushing" their skulls. This language emphasizes the monk's desire for vengeance and his willingness to use violent means to achieve his ends.

Character Analysis: The Monk as Anti-Hero

The character of the monk in "Holy-Cross Day" is a complex one, and his true nature is gradually revealed over the course of the poem. At first, he appears to be a righteous and devout follower of Christ, outraged by the desecration of the cross and determined to seek justice. But as the poem progresses, we see that his motivations are not purely religious or moral; he is also driven by a desire for personal glory and recognition. He revels in the attention he receives from his fellow monks and the townspeople, and he takes pleasure in the thought of punishing the evildoers.

This desire for power and glory is at odds with the monk's professed devotion to his faith, and it raises questions about his true morality. Is he truly a righteous man, outraged by the desecration of the cross and seeking justice for the sake of his faith? Or is he a hypocrite, using his position in the church to exercise power over others and gain recognition for himself?

The final lines of the poem reveal the true nature of the monk's character. He speaks of his desire to "settle accounts" with the perpetrators, but he also reveals that he himself has committed a similar act of sacrilege in the past, stealing a sacred relic from a church. This revelation undermines his moral authority and highlights his hypocrisy. The monk is not a hero, but an anti-hero, a flawed and complex character whose motivations are not purely virtuous.

Conclusion: A Masterpiece of Victorian Poetry

In conclusion, "Holy-Cross Day" is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry, a powerful and complex exploration of human nature and morality. Through its themes of power, revenge, and hypocrisy, its dark and foreboding imagery and language, and its complex character of the monk, the poem challenges our assumptions about morality and righteousness. It reminds us that even the most devout among us are capable of hypocrisy and moral failings, and it calls on us to question our own motivations and actions. As a work of dramatic monologue, it is a testament to Robert Browning's skill in this genre, and it stands as a timeless masterpiece of English literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Holy-Cross Day: A Masterpiece of Robert Browning

Robert Browning, one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, is known for his dramatic monologues and his ability to capture the essence of human emotions. His poem, Holy-Cross Day, is a masterpiece that showcases his poetic genius. The poem is a dramatic monologue that tells the story of a Jewish moneylender who is accused of blasphemy and is sentenced to death. The poem is set in the medieval period, and it explores themes of religion, justice, and morality.

The poem begins with the narrator describing the scene of the execution. The moneylender is tied to a stake, and the crowd is gathered around him. The narrator then introduces the character of the Bishop, who is presiding over the execution. The Bishop is a symbol of religious authority and represents the power of the Church. The narrator describes the Bishop as a man who is "full of faith and zeal," and who is determined to uphold the law of the Church.

The moneylender, on the other hand, is portrayed as a victim of religious persecution. He is a Jew who has been accused of blasphemy, and he is about to be executed for his alleged crime. The narrator describes him as a man who is "pale and thin," and who is "writhing in agony." The moneylender's suffering is a symbol of the injustice that is being done to him.

As the Bishop begins to speak, he addresses the crowd and justifies the execution. He argues that the moneylender has committed a grave sin by blaspheming against the Christian faith. The Bishop's speech is a powerful example of religious rhetoric, and it highlights the power of the Church to control the minds of the people.

However, the moneylender is not willing to accept his fate quietly. He challenges the Bishop's authority and argues that he is being unjustly accused. He claims that he has never blasphemed against the Christian faith and that he is being punished simply because he is a Jew. The moneylender's defiance is a symbol of the human spirit, and it highlights the importance of standing up for one's beliefs.

The poem then takes a dramatic turn as the moneylender reveals a shocking truth. He tells the Bishop that he has a daughter who is a Christian, and that he loves her more than anything in the world. The moneylender's confession is a powerful moment in the poem, and it highlights the complexity of human relationships.

The Bishop is taken aback by the moneylender's confession, and he begins to question his own beliefs. He realizes that he has been too quick to judge the moneylender, and that he has been blinded by his own religious prejudices. The Bishop's realization is a symbol of the power of empathy, and it highlights the importance of understanding the perspectives of others.

The poem ends with the Bishop ordering the release of the moneylender. He acknowledges that he has been wrong to condemn the moneylender, and he asks for forgiveness. The moneylender is freed, and he leaves the scene with his daughter. The poem ends with the narrator reflecting on the events that have transpired, and he concludes that justice has been served.

Holy-Cross Day is a powerful poem that explores themes of religion, justice, and morality. It is a masterpiece of Robert Browning's poetic genius, and it showcases his ability to capture the essence of human emotions. The poem is a reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding, and it highlights the complexity of human relationships. It is a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and move readers to this day.

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