The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Robert Browning’s “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” subtitled “Shortly After the Revival of Learning in Europe,” is a funeral elegy in four stanzas. It is written in the first-person plural, suggesting either a group or a single person speaking for a group. It is important to bear in mind the distance between the speaking persona of the poem and the poet himself; throughout “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” Browning is careful to include elements that make the reader question the objectivity and accuracy of the speaker’s (or speakers’) observations.

The poem describes a funeral procession for a noted grammarian; the procession leaves a sleeping countryside at daybreak and makes its way to a burial site high on a mountain. The funeral party is composed of students of the grammarian, including the speaker(s), who praise their dead master enthusiastically for his devotion to scholarship and his choice of a life of learning over a more conventional existence.

As the students proceed up the mountain, they describe the grammarian, his early years, his decision to embark on a life of study, and finally, his physical decline and death. They speak with admiration of his contempt for life’s more ordinary pursuits and praise his focus on lofty scholarship.