A Grammarian's Funeral "Lofty Designs Must Close In Like Effects"

Robert Browning

"Lofty Designs Must Close In Like Effects"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This poem is the final tribute of a group of students to their dead master, a Greek scholar. At day-break they are carrying his corpse to the mountain top for burial. Their song of praise catches the spirit of those scholars who thirsted after knowledge in the early Renaissance, but they inadvertantly reveal that their master chose Knowledge to the exclusion of Life. This unknowing admission by his students shows that the scholar had, in effect, denied the very premise of Renaissance humanism, which had originally motivated his search for knowledge. The students praise their master's choice: "That before living he'd learn how to live–No end to learning." They never realize the implications of his withdrawal from life. Triumphantly, they complete the process of separation from humanity which the Grammarian himself began:

Here's the top peak; the multitude below
Live, for they can, there;
This man decided not to Live but Know–
Bury this man there?
Here–here's his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects;
Loftily lying,
Leave him–still loftier than the world suspects,
Living and dying.