Christmas Eve and Easter Day is often considered as two poems by Robert Browning. However, both the poems were published together on April 1, 1850, as one single verse, dealing with different aspects of religion from the views of a follower. The poem reflects the complexity of faith and the confusion that Browning faced in his own life when it came to religion.
It is apparent that Shelley, a predecessor of Browning was an atheist and Browning was as much inspired with his religious beliefs as he was with his poetic style. However, his atheism was short lived and he soon stopped practicing it. When he got married to Elizabeth Barret, he was inspired by her strong Christian values.
This lack of conviction and crisis of faith that Browning was experiencing in his own life holds the central idea of the poem.
Christmas Eve and Easter Day Summary
Christmas Eve and Easter Day is a didactic verse that opens with a man coming out of a chapel on a rainy night. In the initial stanza, Browning says that as he gets out of the Church, he feels like a number of hands are groping for the internal latch to the door of the chapel. This man is now out on the street under the pouring rain and starts to explain whatever he sees.
As he starts to explain, he tells about the various things he sees. He explains that he can see men and women serving God and getting rewarded in return. He feels that the people that he sees are suffering but they are happy and content with their lives.
These scenes fill him with anger and start to question religion himself. Through his narrator, Browning asks a number of questions about the true nature of religion. He subtly questions if religion is a guiding light that he is unable to see yet? Or is it just a tool that people use to forget their sufferings. The Christmas Day section of the poem discusses the views that people have about religion and questions these beliefs.
However, from this skepticism about religion and God, Browning advances to the next part of the poem in a very different mood. He begins Easter Day on a stern note and tries to look for the truth behind the religious practices of the society that Browning lived in.
The narrator continues with the bigger questions that he raises in the first part and starts to look within himself for the answers. He argues that God is not an external idea and maybe God is what we see Him as. This helps him to derive a conclusion that a dominating religion is not the way to find God. On the contrary, each man should look at God within him and they will find that their method is the best one to worship.
Christmas Eve and Easter Day Analysis
Written at a time of massive religious confusion, Browning has used Christmas Eve and Easter Day to project his own dilemma about Christianity and institutionalized religion. The progression of the poem is not a list of possibilities but a train of thought that derives information from one idea to develop another concept.
Using this poem as a medium of expression, Browning raises a question that was very relevant to the times that he was living in. The authority of the Church was being questioned by people on a very big scale and these questions perplexed Browning as well. He practiced atheism and had been a devoted follower of Christianity. However, he was unsatisfied with both these experiences and was desperately looking for a faith that he could follow.
As the poem continues, Browning starts to lay emphasis on the idea that God is an idea and not a thing. This is the reason why people look at Him differently and expect different things from him. He also mentions that the opinions that a young man may have about faith are subject to change as he will grow old.
This explanation helps Browning to reach a very important conclusion towards the end where he says that doubt is a basic element of faith. He proposes the idea that God is what each person sees Him as and faith is nothing but a personal ideology. He concludes the poem with the idea that instead of looking at organized religion for something to believe in, all individuals should focus on their personal idea of God and build a church within themselves.
Read the complete poem Christmas Eve and Easter Day by Robert Browning if you enjoyed this read!