Love & Marriage
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
Points of Reflection
The Bible: Ephesians 5:21-33
1. do you assume that the preamble in verse twenty-one about Christians submitting to one another should inform the way we read the verses about submission and love which follow?
2. along with chapter two of I Timothy, Ephesians 5:22-33 ranks as one of the most controversial of those in the New Testament given that its behavioral prescriptions are gendered: it appears, that is, to call women and men in slightly different--if parallel--directions. How do you read this passage in the twenty-first century? Does it contain useful guidelines or truths that resonate across the centuries? Does it feel hopelessly archaic and outdated? If "sexist," does its edge cut both ways?
3. is this passage as much about the relationship between Christ (the groom) and the Church (the bride) as it is about an actual, married couple?
4. in what ways have passages like this been used (or abused) to justify injustice? By contrast, towards what kinds of virtues might these passages call both men and women?
5. consider your own experience with either sex/gender, with both young and old. Do you know guys and gals who are equally desperate for both love and respect? Could it be argued that either sex, in general, longs to receive one of these (i.e. love or respect) more than the other sex? Does Genesis 3:16 seem at all relevant to this discussion?
The Bible: James 3:3-10
1. when James writes of the tongue as an easily corruptible part of the body, he is employing metonymy, allowing a thing (i.e. the tongue) to stand for something with which it is associated (i.e. the mind and its ideas). Is this a common rhetorical strategy even today? Do you, in common discourse, describe a malicious person as having a "wicked tongue"?
2. in what way might the body--and its path--be "set on fire" by the tongue? Is it easy to take back something once it has been voiced? Are we usually comfortable with confessing to a verbal error and/or deception, or do we find that words spoken aloud grant ideas a life is it difficult to quell?
3. the writer here constructs the tongue's potential as inclined towards evil, not balanced between good and bad. Do you agree? Is this more a comment on human nature itself than spoken language?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) / PDF
1. Elizabeth thanks Robert for saving her from what morbid line of thought? What imminent threat has Robert's presence and love disrupted (ll.1-6)?
2. picking up on the percussive sound made by footsteps (l.2), Elizabeth suggests Robert's love has taught her life a new "rhythm" (l.7). What might this metaphor connote, in practical terms?
3. in this context, "dole" (l.7) denotes a person's particular destiny--her lot in life. Elizabeth suggests God gave her a "cup of dole" as a kind of baptism which, in Robert's presence, she gladly drinks. Does the passage suggest that this dole/destiny is, in and of itself, pleasurable? As always, read closely--between the lines.
4. the claim in lines 10-11 is difficult both grammatically (e.g. "changed away for") and thematically. Any thoughts as to what Elizabeth is attempting to express, and does the idea in question seem heretical?
5. to what is Elizabeth figuratively referring with "this lute and song" (l.12)?
1. what tone dominates this sonnet?
2. on whom does Elizabeth place the blame for the recent argument between her and Robert?
3. why might Elizabeth conjure the religious situation of an acolyte, one who has fallen en route to a church altar, to describe her current feelings (ll.4-9)?
4. Elizabeth appears distressed by a "vow" Robert made earlier that day (l.7). Any guesses as to what that vow might be?
5. what is Elizabeth, at the nadir of this emotional experience, beginning to question (ll.10-13)?
6. in the midst of her sorrow, does Elizabeth identify Robert with light or with darkness (ll.13-14)?
Robert Browning's "Meeting at Night" (1845), 136
1. at what hour does this rendezvous between lovers take place?
2. why might Browning employ such an odd rhyme scheme (abccba) in each of the two stanzas of this short lyric?
3. what seems louder to the narrator than his lover's whispering voice?
Robert Browning's "Parting at Morning" (1845), 136
1. in the year of his death (1889), Browning explained that the narrators of this poem and its companion, "Meeting at Night," are both male. In order for this reading to work, the reader must assume that the sun is configured as which sex?
2. does this four-line poem maintain that the ecstasy of romantic union can last indefinitely?
EBB's "The Romaunt of the Page" (1839), Broadview 103-18
1. does EBB maintain a regular rhyme scheme and meter throughout this poem?
2. what is the "blessing kind" which has--with the help of Nature--recently replaced thoughts of battle in the faithful page's mind (ll.13-31)? Does the page manage to utter this thought aloud before the poem ends?
3. what clues does EBB drop throughout the poem as to the page's true identity, prior to the actual reveal?
4. what type of music is twice (ll.71-94, 330-49) wafted by the wind from the convent by the sea over to the page and knight?
5. whose honor was defended in battle, and who did the defending (ll.116-22)? Untwist the complicated syntax of stanza 16.
6. who wins this combat, and who dies?
7. so, stanza V did not appear in the original version of this poem (1839), and stanzas 15-19 were more quickly rendered in only two stanzas. Do EBB's additions for the 1844 republication of the poem alter the poem's idea or impact in any way?
8. how did the knight come to be betrothed to his lady?
9. what binary does EBB repeatedly deploy to indicate the two available options as concerns female beauty (ll.99, 107, 195)? Do these two words indicate two types of beauty, or do they signal the difference between a surfeit of beauty and a dearth of beauty?
10. by what criteria does the knight determine a woman's relative success at being a lady, and what alternative yardstick does the page present for measuring such a quality (ll.190-236, ll.280-83)?
11. why does the page calmly encourage the knight to ride on ahead, instead of informing him of the enemy's approach (ll.237-63)?
12. the page has demonstrated battle prowess earlier (ll.11-12). Why does the page discard both helmet and sword when facing the enemy (ll.270-74)?
13. does EBB cast the Moslem adversaries as honorable?
14. why is the page smiling in line 325?
15. consider this poem's last three lines and their similarity to John Donne's "Meditation XVII."
Robert Browning's "A Lover's Quarrel" (1853; 1855), 139-44
1. though often problematic to assume the narrator speaks for the author her/himself, this poem is indeed informed by autobiographical events. We can assume that the narrator's experience lies close to Robert Browning's own, and that the conflict between the narrator and his wife gestured at here resembles occasional arguments between Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (often referred to as "EBB"). What is Browning's attitude towards the wife on the other side of this conflict?
2. why does the narrator wish the blue of the March morning were instead grey (ll.1-7)?
3. why might Browning alter the meter of successive lines so consistently and dramatically along the range of 5-8 syllables? (Note that the number of syllables in each stanza's string of seven lines are: 6, 7, 5, 5, 8, 6, 8.)
4. to what "tale" (l.13) does the narrator wish his love would attend/listen?
5. why does the narrator use the past tense "loved" in lines 21 and 79?
6. during the idyllic period of "three months ago" (ll.15, 71, 78), did the narrator of his beloved blind themselves to one another's imperfections?
7. stanzas V-VII gesture loosely at three different possible catalysts for disagreement between the narrator and his wife. Can you identify these intimated, contentious topics?
8. why does the narrator cast lovers as in a "woeful case" (l.54), despite the fact that their arms are around one another (ll.52, 56)?
9. where is the narrator's wife during this monologue? Is she present or absent? What do lines 57-63 suggest about her location? Is she the auditor for this poem?
10. the sleeping earth of winter--under the "mute hand" of the covering snow--remained ignorant of what (ll.71-77)? What might Browning be saying about the spell cast by winter over their marriage?
10. why does Browning use "were" in line 84 instead of the more intuitive "became," and "were" in line 140 instead of the "would be" implied by the context?
11. in the heat of initial anger, is it possible to hear and take to heart such words from your antagonist as, "I'm sorry--I didn't mean it" (see the poetic version in lines 85-88)?
12. does the notion of lovers being dissolved into a single being (ll.92-96) have a Biblical precedent?
13. in lines 99-103, Browning reiterates an idea first articulated in a pre-marital letter to EBB from Jan. 13, 1845: "[Y]our poetry must be, cannot but be, infinitely more to me than mine to you—for you do what I always wanted, hoped to do, and only seem now likely to do for the first time. You speak out, you,--I only make men & women speak—give you truth broken into prismatic hues, and fear the pure white light, even if it is in me: but I am going to try . . so it will be no small comfort to have your company now . . ." (Courtship 5). Do you agree with Browning that his poems provide truth "broken into prismatic hues" instead of conveyed by "pure white light"?
14. what lines of reasoning does the narrator/Browning deploy in stanzas 13-17 to try to defuse the situation?
15. what does stanza XVII reveal about the source of their current argument?
16. do you agree that arguments between lovers are harder to deal with than dissension and strife out in "the world" (ll.113-19)?
17. why does the narrator long that spring be replaced with winter (ll.120-133)? Why does he long for the cold of a crypt (ll.139-46)?
18. does Browning use the word "dispense" to denote "distribute; provide" or "get rid of" in line 137?
19. does the narrator long for the kind of forgiveness from his wife that has been withheld, or provided, in the past (ll.148-59)?
20. does this poem conclude with a happy ending?
"Autumnal Cannibalism" (1936)
oil on canvas
Dr. Paul Marchbanks