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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

The religious sentiment in SAUL anticipates Christianity


67: "Wine of Cyprus." The quotation heading the poem qualifies it as 'wine for the superiors in age and station.']

[Footnote 68: Such as Wordsworth assumed to have been in use with Shakespeare.]

[Footnote 69: This is told in the tales of the Troubadours.]

[Footnote 70: Published, simultaneously, in Mr. Fox's "Monthly Repository." The song in "Pippa Passes" beginning "A king lived long ago," and the verses introduced in "James Lee's Wife," were also first published in this Magazine, edited by the generous and very earliest encourager of Mr. Browning's boyish attempts at poetry.]

[Footnote 71: These verses were written when Mr. Browning was twenty-three.]



The emotions which, after that of love, are most strongly represented in Mr. Browning's works are the RELIGIOUS and the ARTISTIC: emotions closely allied in every nature in which they happen to co-exist, and which are so in their proper degree in Mr. Browning's; the proof of this being that two poems which I have placed in the Artistic group almost equally fit into the Religious. But the religious poems impress us more by their beauty than by their number, if we

limit it to those which are directly inspired by this particular emotion. Religious questions have occupied, as we have seen, some of Mr. Browning's most important reflective poems. Religious belief forms the undercurrent of many of the emotional poems. And it was natural therefore, that religious feeling should not often lay hold of him in a more exclusive form. It does so only in three cases; those of

"Saul." ("Dramatic Lyrics." Published in part in "Dramatic Romances and Lyrics," 1845; wholly, in "Men and Women," 1855.)

"Epilogue." ("Dramatis Personae." 1864.)

"Fears and Scruples." ("Pacchiarotto and other Poems." 1876.)

The religious sentiment in "SAUL" anticipates Christianity. It begins with the expression of an exalted human tenderness, and ends in a prophetic vision of Divine Love, as manifested in Christ. The speaker is David. He has been sent into the presence of Saul to sing and play to him; for Saul is in the agony of that recurring spiritual conflict from which only David's song can deliver him; and when the boy-shepherd has crept his way into the darkness of the tent, he sees the monarch with arms outstretched against its poles, dumb, sightless, and stark, like the serpent in the solitude of the forest awaiting its transformation.

David tells his story, re-enacting the scene which it describes, in strong, simple, picturesque words which rise naturally into the language of prophecy. He tells how first he tried the influence of pastoral tunes: those which call the sheep back to the pen, and stir the sense of insect and bird; how he passed to the song of the reapers--their challenge to mutual help and fellowship; to the warrior's march; the burial and marriage chants; the chorus of the Levites advancing towards the altar; and how at this moment Saul sent forth a groan, though the lights which leapt from the jewels of his turban were his only sign of motion. Then--the tale continues--David changes his theme. He sings of the goodness of human life, as attested by the joyousness of youth, the gratitude of old age. He sings of labour and success, of hope and fulfilment, of high ambitions and of great deeds; of the great king in whom are centred all the gifts and the powers of human nature--of Saul himself. And at these words the tense body relaxes, the arms cross themselves on the breast. But the eyes of Saul still gaze vacantly before him, without consciousness of life, without desire for it.

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