A Grammarian’s Funeral Summary and Analysis
Read our complete notes below on “A Grammarian’s Funeral” by Robert Browning. Our notes cover A Grammarian’s Funeral summary and analysis.
“A Grammarian’s Funeral” is a poem written by Robert Browning. He was born on May 7, 1812, in Walworth, London, United Kingdom and died on December 12, 1889, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice, Italy. He was a Victorian English poet and playwright, famous for his mastery in dramatic monologue. His notable works include; Men and Women, The Ring and the Book, Dramatis Personae, Dramatic Lyrics, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.
“A Grammarian’s Funeral” was published in ‘The Men and Women’ in 1855. Men and Women was a collection of fifty-one poems in two volumes by Robert Browning, first published in 1855. While now generally considered to contain some of the best of Browning’s poetry, at the time it was not received well and sold poorly.
“A Grammarian’s Funeral” is a eulogy (a praise or tribute to someone who has just died). In this poem the disciple of grammarian praises him while taking his corpse up the mountain along with other disciples. This poem is an apt example of a dramatic monologue because the disciple speaks about the life of grammarian and praises him in loud words while nobody responds to what he says while the other people just listen.
A Grammarian’s Funeral Summary:
A Grammarian’s Funeral is a dramatic monologue set in shortly after the renaissance in Europe.
A sad poem sung by a disciple of a noble grammarian, who passed away after spending whole of life in pursuing his ambition of learning new things.
The poem is about the whole life of the grammarian as seen and observed by the disciple. It is in the form of a movement from plains to the hilltop, where they plan to bury the grammarian.
They walk in darkness towards the mountain and during the walk the grammarian’s disciple tells the biography and the achievements of his master.
The grammarian’s disciples wish their master to be buried in the mountain where there is culture and learning. This mountain receives the sun shine first than it passes it down to earth. The mountain here represents greatness and higher thoughts.
His eager interests in knowing the mystery of world and human life led him spend all his young age reading and gaining knowledge. Even in his old age, he wanted to know the views of poets and other great scholars.
He believed in enjoying life after death (the eternal life). He kept reading books, without a stop. After reading books, he wished to read the commentaries and criticism of some books. He wished to read until the last moment of his life.
The grammarian before beginning to live his life planned for his life. The grammarian fully believed in God and thereby he planned for his happy life, after death. Ordinary men would say that time keeps moving and they would start enjoying their life but the grammarian believed in life after death and in the concept that soul has no end.
He was not narrow in his thoughts. He did not have small ambitions. He did not draw a small circle around him. Only ordinary men would believe in short gains and profits and they would lose the bargain during the Judgment day.
The poem is an example of Browning’s skill of describing characters through dramatic monologue.
A Grammarian’s Funeral Themes:
Understanding life before living it:
Grammarian is of the view that it is very necessary to understand the meaning of life before living it. A person may die but people should remember his contributions to the society. We believe in the life hereafter hence we should try to forbid ourselves from wasting our life. The grammarian spent his whole life in contributing treasures of knowledge to the society. This life is given to us by the lord for doing some good and not wasting it hence we should make good use of it.
Love for learning:
This is another prominent theme in this poem. The love of grammarian for learning is shown at various places in the poem. Learning new things every day is something really essential for the people. Living a life of ignorance is for animals and not humans. By learning new things in life one can strife hard to make his life and the life of the people surrounding him better.
Respect and Honor:
The most evident theme of the poem is respect and honor. The disciples of grammarian respect him and praise him. Therefore they want to bury him at the highest mountain peak in the town. They find that place worth digging his grave. Although nobody wants to be like him because he neglected his life, health and physical appearance completely; yet they want the best place for him to be buried. The mountains top is place where the clouds are formed and the lightening in the sky can be seen. The dun rays would touch the mountain peak first and then descend the earth later. The disciples give great respect and honor to the dead body of their master walking in a proper rhythm with square chests and erect heads.
A Grammarian’s Funeral Analysis:
Line 1 to 28:
It consists of the first seven quadrants of the poem; the speaker starts the poem by asking his fellow beings to carry up the corpse and start singing together in praise of the grammarian who is dead now. The disciple honor and respect him and his contributions in the field of Greek grammar and hence they want to take him away from the common and ignorant people to a place that is worth digging his grave.
In the second quadrant, while taking the dead body of the grammarian on their shoulders, the disciples pass by the common people in town. The speaker talks of the inhabitants of town who are busy in their normal routines, like cutting their crops, while others sleeping peacefully in the highlands after completing their work.
In the third quadrant of the poem, the speaker says that the common people rarely think of understanding the true meaning of life. They rather spend their whole life in doing daily chores and never focus on doing something great for humanity. The poet says that we ought to break away from all the restraints and think out of the box. The friction in our thoughts will help it purify the mind.
Furthermore in the fourth quadrant the poet says that lets leave these illiterate and ignorant people and move to a place that is our final destination. He says that “seek we sepulture (tomb)” on a mountain top, a place that is surrounded with culture and is worth the grammarian’s intellect and personality. It would be inappropriate to bury him among these uneducated people.
Moreover, in the fifth quadrant of the poem, the poet talks about the mountain peak where the grammarian’s dead body is supposed to be buried. The poet says that it is supposed to be buried at the highest mountain peak that excels in height than the rest of the peaks so that even after death he is at the highest rank as now. This mountain top would be the first to receive lightening in night and sun rays in the day time.
In the sixth and seventh quadrant; as the speaker along with other disciples walks up the heights towards the mountain, says that other peoples’ lives are dark like night while the grammarian is meant for the morning. Step upright in his honor with square chests showing pride and respect as he is our master lying dead on our shoulders.
Line 29 to 72
This part of the poem consists from quadrant nine to eighteen. In quadrants nine and ten the speaker talks about his master that he was born with same face and throat as a normal human being but he was the god of sun since he lived a nameless life despite being such a great intellectual. He never cared for the difficulties of the life. His health and youth were failing but he worked hard to work on some more grammatical rules.
In quadrant eleven and twelfths the speaker says that it is always the world’s way to discourage. They took pity on his failing health and declining age. But the grammarian took no notice of other men when they pitied his poor condition. He left play for work and struggled against the hurdles set by the world. He was always keen to learn new things. His love for knowledge was never ending.
In quadrants thirteen and fourteen, the speaker mentions some more facts about the grammarian. He used to work hard and write things and then read the criticism of other learned people on his work. Due to his never ending love for knowledge he used to read the books till the last page. The speaker says that the grammarian was a learned man without a doubt but his appearance and health suffered a lot. Because he gave more attention to studies rather than to his own self. His head grew bald and eyes turned black.
The speaker in the next two quadrants says that if there would have been some other person. She/he would have said that this life is for enjoyment however the grammarian was of the view that this life is a test and the real life comes after death. He believed in the life hereafter and patience in this life. The grammarian after achieving so much and sacrificing his joyous moments to grammar still was criticized by people in one way or the other. Some criticized him and others criticized his work.
In the last two quadrants of this part the speaker says that grammarian’s way of living life and resolving things was quite different. When he used to get frustrated he would keep his book aside for some time and start all over again. He understood the meaning of life as a whole and not in pieces. He gives us an image of constructing a building to understand the real meaning of life.
Line 73 to 148
This part of the poem consists of quadrants nineteen to thirty seven. The speaker mentions that they funeral have reached the town-gate. He says that their master had his own grace therefore, in his honor “hearten our Chorus!” The speaker further mentions that before living their mater learned how to live just like we find the means to earn first and then God help us earning. Without finding the means of earning, God also doesn’t help.
In quadrants twenty one and twenty two the speaker talks about the philosophy of his master. The grammarian said that a common man says that “live now or never!” but the grammarian says that leave this life for dogs and apes, man has forever if he takes his life seriously and contribute something fruitful to the society. Furthermore the speaker says that the grammarian again dug his head deep in books. This study of calculus made him weak and old, his eyes got dark circles and Tussis attacked him.
The speaker says that he never rested, even if he was asked to take rest. He never listened and turned back to his studies like fierce dragon. He used to take big gallops of knowledge because his thirst for learning was sacred.
Towards the end of the poem that speaker reveals some more facts about the grammarian saying that he was never greedy for the quick returns of profit for what he was contributing to the society. He had made this thing clear to himself and his mind that he was not a fool to waste his life here. He did not pursue heavenly success neither was he afraid of earth’s failure rather he understood the real meaning of life. He just wanted to make good use of his life for the sake of the people of this world. He undoubtedly believe and the life hereafter.
The speaker here mentions the difference between a common ignorant man and a noble educated man. According to the grammarian a common man see things and does it however a man of higher rank does so many great things and without asking for a reward and dies one day. This low man goes on adding one to one to hit his hundred soon. However the high man aiming at a million misses an unit. The common man believes in this world and tries to make it better while a man of higher rank “throws himself on God, unperplexed / Seeking shall find him”
The speaker then mentions the poor condition of grammarian that while he was struggling with death he still uttered parts of speech and grammatical rules of Greek language and have us the concept of enclitic De while he was paralyzed “dead from the waist down”. The speaker along with other companions has reached the place and says that this is the proper place to bury him. This is place where starts come and go, clouds are formed and lightening loosened. The speaker says that let the grammarian enjoy his life here in this beautiful and pleasant place. He is the living dead, let him live in peace and joy over here.
A Grammarian’s Funeral is 148 line poem with a consistent rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefghgh following the same pattern till the end.
The poem is written in outdoor setting. It is evident from the events of the poem that the dead body of the grammarian is being taken up the hill by his disciples. The people accompanying the funeral walk goes through streets of the town reaching the town gate (here’s the town-gate reached: theirs is the market-place/ Gaping before us) and then start climbing up the hill. Upon reaching the mountain top where the dead grammarian is to be buried; the speaker say: “Here here’s this place, where meteors shoot, clouds form, /Lightenings are loosened”.
The speaker of the poem is first person-plural. It is not clear that only one disciple of the grammarian is speaking or all of them are saying this eulogy aloud. This poem is said objectively, it is not something subjective. The praise or information about the grammarian is universal in the view of all the people and nothing personal mentioned.
Imagery is a visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work. The poem starts with the imagery of death because the speaker calls the dead grammarian as “the corpse”. This poem is full of imagery of plains, highlands, herd and crops “Leave we the unlettered plain its herd and crops” signifying the daily routine of the illiterate people who do not know the worth of their life. Moreover the speaker describes the beautiful imagery of the mountain top that it’s a place where the meteors shoot, lightening is loosened and the clouds overcome it.
Figures of speech:
The speaker calls the grammarian fierce as dragon and says that the grammarian was as thirsty (his soul had a sacred thirst for learning) and he used to learn fiercely/ energetically like a dragon is fierce.
The attribution of a human characteristic to something non-human, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form is known as personification. In line 125 of the poem the poet says that “So, with the throttling hands of death at strife, / Ground he at grammar;” mentioning the hands of death.