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The Bishop Orders His Tomb by Robert Browning Analysis

The Bishop Orders his tomb by Robert Browning is primarily about a materialistic Bishop on his death bed that comes across as arrogant and selfish. We gather his personality through the structure, form and language used by Browning. Just like with many poems analysed on Ask Will Online, below is a complete analysis of the poem from with reference to the form, structure and language of the poem. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you and if you want more poem analysis from Browning and Auden, just type the poem in at the top of Ask Will Online and it should be there (poems for English AS).


  • The poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue. This made clear from the use of  ‘I’ and his emotions coming through to the reader of panic, ‘Do I like, am I dead?’ Browning uses the dramatic monologue form a lot in his poems such as in The Patriot.
  • The dramatic monologue helps to emphasise the confusion and materialism of the Bishop who is the voice of the whole poem, ‘I know not, I’ …’ Ellipses are available to use because the dramatic monologue gives us the point of view from the Bishop.


  • The poem is in real time chronological order making the Bishop’s speech seem more like it is happening now.
  • There is no structure to the poem: it is one long stanza. The fact the poem has no structural stanzas and features ellipses illustrates how the Bishop’s mind is wandering making the poem sound more like one long ramble.
  • There is no use of rhyming because it is the Bishop’s random thoughts and to add to the realistic nature of this poem, his thoughts do not rhyme.
  • Structurally, the poem ends where it begins. The poem started by mentioning how ‘Old Gandolf’ envied the Bishop and that the mistress was ‘so fair she was!’ Ending the poem where it started produces a circular motion to the poem. However, there is no progression or development in the poem.
  • The poem has a circular motion but the development of the poem itself is dead, still: very much like the Bishop.
  • There is use of irregular line lengths making clear the Bishop is confused.
  • The structure and lack of coherency can be seen to reflect upon the Bishop’s life. The poem is packed full of ideas from the Bishop’s mind wandering creating the sense of materialism. Therefore, like his personality, the structure helps to make his poem an object owned by the Bishop strengthening his materialistic trait.
The poem is divided by themes:
  • Rivalry with Gandolf.
  • Relationship with his sons.
  • Making the tomb beautiful.
  • Worried about his possessions.
  • Worried about death.


  • The Bishop starts by stating that his name shouldn’t be in vanity, ‘Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!’ He’s vain with this being his last sermon.
  • Ellipses are used, ‘sons mineah God’. This shows his is thinking making his speech less coherent.
  • The fact he asks for people to ‘Draw round my bed’ shows he’s in the interior of a church.
  • ‘Old Gandolf’ was someone who envied him because the Bishop had the mistress: not Gandolf.
  • Early on, Browning establishes the character of the Bishop that he is somebody who wants to possess things.
  • The fact he is questioning life, ‘Life, how and what is it?’ suggests he has problems accepting Christian beliefs. This makes clear he is not a natural Bishop.
  • There is the use of long vowel sounds, ‘dying by degree’, to echo his long death.
  • ‘Saint Praxed’ is a virgin female Saint.
  • The repetition of ‘Peace, peace’ emphasises that peace is what he wants.
  • He comes across as very competitive, ‘With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know’. He has a devotion to have things the way he wants.
  • There is the use of a caesura, ‘Draw close: that’ to enable the sons to draw closer to the Bishop.
  • The Bishop talks to his sons, ‘My sons, ye would not be my death? Go dig’.
  • Lots of ellipses are used throughout the poem ‘…’ to make clear his wondering incoherent mind.
  • His sons are portrayed as selfish, ‘That brave Frascati villa with its bath’.
St Praxed in a glory, and one Pan
Ready to twitch the Nymph’s last garment off,
And Moses with the tables but I know
Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee
The Bishop here is in a playful mood showing his elaborate range of emotions before he dies and his confusion. With the help of another ellipsis, he wants Moses to be by him while he dies which is inappropriate. He believes he is important enough to have somebody of importance such as Moses to be there while he dies.
  • He addresses his boys directly, ‘Nay, boys, ye love me – all jasper , then!’
  • ‘And have I not St Praxed’s ear to pray / Horses of ye, and brown Greek manuscripts’ The Bishop is raising himself to the same level as a Saint saying people will listen and so on.
  • ‘That’s if ye carve my epitaph alright, / Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully’s every word’. He wants a poet to write an epitaph for him as he feels worthy enough. This identifies the Bishop as being arrogant.
  • ‘And see God made and eaten all day long’. Here is a Catholic belief as well as examples of his individual’s corrupt materialism.
  • ‘Do I live, am I dead? There, leave me, there!’ There is the use of exclamations throughout to hint towards credibility.
  • He is starting to not make sense ‘ye have stabbed me with ingratitude’ which makes the reader foreshadow a death approaching.
  • He starts to have nightmares about death, ‘Gritstone, a-crumble! Clammy squares which sweat’. His visceral nightmares are to do with his body too.
  • He says there is nothing else to enjoy ‘And no more lapis to delight the world!’ This is something not what Bishops do.
  • ‘Well, go! I bless ye. Fewer tapers there’. The Bishop blesses his sons and states that there are less tapers (slender candle). This can be seen as the light of life and that the candles represent God. If there are few tapers, there are less prayers meaning God in not around.
  • He worries if he is going to go to Heaven or Hell as he hasn’t always done his religious duties.
  • ‘Ay, like departing altar-ministrants’. Here he is describing his sons with the use of a simile. It is picturesque and graphic as they are leaving the Bishop quietly trying not to disturb him while they walk out.
  • The word ‘peace’ has a long vowel sound adding to the peace and silence.
  • The last line ‘As still he envied me, so fair she was!’ talks about the Mistress. It is at the end to show how much he loves her. This emphasises the rivalry between him and Gandolf and how he doesn’t think like a Bishop. His thoughts are venial. He needs to be repentance saying sorry for what he has done wrong in life. However, he never says sorry strengthening the view that the Bishop think he is always right.
Be sure to check out other poems I have analysed on Ask Will Online. Also check out PoemAnalysis.com that has one of, if not the, largest database  of poetry analysis online – if I have not analysed a poem you are looking for on Ask Will Online, you will find it on PoemAnalysis.com.


  1. Anonymous May 15, 2012
  2. Will Green January 17, 2013
  3. Anonymous April 2, 2013
  4. Will Green April 2, 2013
  5. Anonymous April 7, 2013
  6. Anonymous January 25, 2016
  7. Hina Shahnawaz March 23, 2016
  8. Hina Shahnawaz March 23, 2016

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