A Grammarian's Funeral "Leave Now For Dogs And Apes! Man Has Forever"

Robert Browning

"Leave Now For Dogs And Apes! Man Has Forever"

Context: In this poem Robert Browning expresses one of his favorite ideas: that man is finest when he strives mightily, no matter what his actual achievements may be. In the poem, a group of disciples are carrying their dead master, a Renaissance grammarian, to his last resting place upon a high mountain at the top of which shines a citadel. The dead master was born with the face of Apollo, but instead of living a life of pleasure and self-gratification, he devoted himself to learning. He wanted to know all that the poets and sages had learned about man, and so he doggedly ground away at his studies. When his disciples first gathered around him, they found him profoundly learned, but they also found him bald and leaden-eyed, with his youthful handsomeness gone. He wanted to eat even the crumbs of intellectual life. He was going to live when he had learned all about life that books could tell him, but not until then. He would learn to live before living, but as there was no end to learning he decided to leave the present moment to the lower animals, who cannot communicate what they learn; man–the race, not the individual–has the ability to communicate, and so he has forever.

Yea, this in him was the peculiar grace
(Hearten our chorus!)
That before living he'd learn how to live–
No end to learning;
Earn the means first–God surely will contrive
Use for our earning.
Others mistrust and say–"But time escapes!
Live now or never!"
He said, "What's time? leave Now for dogs and apes!
Man has Forever."
Back to his book then: deeper drooped his head;
Calculus racked him:
Leaden before, his eyes grew dross of lead:
Tussis attacked him.