In 1850 Browning published a pair of poems on the two great festival days of the church year which memorialize two cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith—the Incarnation and the Resurrection—between which the Cross hangs suspended, as it were, and by which alone that awesome sacrifice achieves its true significance.
These two poems are said to be among the very few in which the great poet spoke in his own voice without his usual dramatic disguise. The first of these, it is true, is rather clearly direct (cf. “Browning’s ‘Christmas Eve’ ” in the Dec. 7, 1959 issue, CHRISTIANITY TODAY). It considered the evangelical, the liturgical, and the rationalistic approaches to the doctrine of the Incarnation—three basic movements within the church in Browning’s time as in ours.
The second poem is less direct, using the techniques of a dramatic dialogue and a monologue combined. It is not so clearly related to the main theme of the day of Resurrection as is the first to the Christmas theme. Browning here seems to be concerned with the problem of belief in the biblical realm of spiritual reality and also with its corollary, the tremendous responsibility imposed by the Christian faith upon one who does believe. The poem, therefore, has an existential implication peculiarly relevant to the contemporary pattern of thought.
“How very hard it is to be a Christian!” the first speaker in the poetic dialogue bursts out, and the dramatic statement recurs as a sort of refrain to the end of the poem. Whether the dialogue is intended to be a discussion between this man, possibly representing the poet who questions, who feels the burden of the mystery, the difficulty of combining a sincere and earnest faith with a correspondingly sincere manner of ...1
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