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Dark Like Blood


"'You people with trouble . . . lay it in that River of Blood, lay it in that River of Pain,
and watch it move away toward the Kingdom of Christ" (162).
Flannery O'Connor's "The River" (1955)


Points of Reflection

EBB: "The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus" (1838), 65-72

1. Mary briefly alludes to the Annunciation, a prior encounter with the angel Gabriel in which she learned of the imminent, miraculous conception of Jesus within her body (ll.2-10), and then proceeds as if she were once again in the presence of a heavenly host (ll.38, etc.).  Does her intended audience limit or free her speech?

2. Does Mary’s approach to the infant incarnate Christ--informed by her awareness of his divinity--appear to tighten or loosen the bond between mother and child?

3. Does giving birth to the son of God fill Mary with pride and a sense of her own holiness?

4. What does Mary mean when she describes a “shade” on the baby (l.131), and what does her elaboration of this idea in the subsequent lines suggest about Barrett Browning’s conception of Jesus’ personality?

5. Read John 11:32-43, in which Jesus shows great sorrow upon learning of his friend Lazarus’ death, just prior to resurrecting him.  Barrett Browning suggests that both Father and Son of the Holy Trinity are specially attuned to the dropping of human tears (ll.104-105, 173-180), and the fourth gospel account of Christ’s life that Jesus himself wept upon learning of a friend’s death (John 11:32-43).  Is the Divine configured, in this poem, as actively concerned about human suffering?

RB: "The Bishop Orders His Tomb . . ." (1844-45; 1845), 126-30

1. what does the bishop's uncertainty about the identity of those surrounding his bed suggest?

2. what precipitated the animosity between the bishop and the deceased Gandolf?

3. unpack the irony of the bishop's claim that St. Praxed's Church is "the church of peace" (l.14).

4. why does the bishop so prize the particular location in which he is to be entombed?

5. with what colors does the bishop wish his tomb to be decoratedj?

6. why does the bishop ask his auditors to draw closely around him (l.34)? What secret does he divulge?

7. what do you make of the bishops desire to have his tomb decorated with a mix of pagan and Christian motifs?

8. the bishop promises his auditors he will pray to St. Praxed that they receive what if they decorate his tomb as requested, and carve the "epitaph aright" (l.76)?

9. how does the bishop envision the afterlife for himself?

10. the bishop notes that, dying, his mind is entertaining "strange thoughts" (l.91). Does he have any deathbed epiphanies and, if so, do they appear to do him any good?

Mannequin (1926-27)
"Untitled (Portrait of the Artist's Mother") (1920)
Salvador Dalí

Dr. Paul Marchbanks