Caliban Upon Setebos "Letting The Rank Tongue Blossom Into Speech"

Robert Browning

"Letting The Rank Tongue Blossom Into Speech"

Context: Caliban–a subhuman monster, half man, half beast–is the unwilling servant of the magician Prospero and his daughter, Miranda. (Shakespeare: The Tempest) We hear Caliban speaking literally and morally from the bottom of a swamp as he muses on the nature of Setebos, the god of his witch-mother, Sycorax. He identifies Setebos with the aching unpleasantness of cold and therefore believes that it is safer to talk about him in the summer's warmth and safety. The key to Caliban's interpretation is found in the motto that prefixes the poem: "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself." Thus Caliban attempts to deduce the character of God from the evidence he sees in nature around him and creates a god made in his own image. Caliban believes that Setebos made the world out of spite, envy, listlessness, or sport. Man can only hope that Setebos will tire of this world and ignore it or that Setebos will evolve into a more beneficent god. The opening lines of the poem describe the physical setting and begin Caliban's philosophical musings:

He looks out o'er yon sea. . . .
. . .
And talks to his own self, howe'er he please,
Touching that other, whom his dam called God.
Because to talk about Him, vexes–ha,
Could He but know! and time to vex is now,
When talk is safer than in winter time.
Moreover Prospero and Miranda sleep
In confidence he drudges at their task;
And it is good to cheat the pair, and gibe,
Letting the rank tongue blossom into speech.
Setebos, Setebos, Setebos!
'Thinketh He dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon.