An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician Quotes

Robert Browning

"Picker-up Of Learning's Crumbs"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Written as a letter from the humble physician Karshish to his learned friend and teacher Abib, this poem relates what happens when a scientist comes face to face with a miracle. Karshish is openminded and eager in his search for greater knowledge; he closely examines nature for new cures and hopes, during his journey through the Holy Land, to discover herbs and ointments that will be useful in his profession. Though he is willing to go out of his way to study a spider, he cannot accept the story told about Lazarus, who claims that he was raised from the dead by Jesus. With the keen intellect of a scientist, he dismisses this miracle as a tale told by a madman. The irony of the man who humbly seeks ways to heal but discards the Healer is stressed in this quotation; Karshish has such a scientific mind that he cannot accept a miracle, thus leaving the Holy Land with only insignificant knowledge.

Karshish, the picker-up of learning's crumbs,
The not-incurious in God's handiwork . . .
The vagrant Scholar to his Sage at home
Sends greeting (health and knowledge, fame with peace)
Three samples of true snake-stone–rarer still,
One of the other sort, the melon-shaped
(But fitter, pounded fine, for charms than drugs)
And writeth now the twenty-second time.