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—That’s if ye carve my epitaph aright, 

Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully’s every word,      75

No gaudy ware like Gandolf’s second line— 

Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need! 

And then how I shall lie through centuries, 

And hear the blessed mutter of the mass, 

And see God made and eaten all day long,                80

And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste 

Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke! 

For as I lie here, hours of the dead night, 

Dying in state and by such slow degrees, 

I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,                 85

And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point, 

And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop 

Into great laps and folds of sculptor’s-work: 

And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts 

Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,               90

About the life before I lived this life, 

And this life too, popes, cardinals and priests, 

Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount, 

Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes, 

And new-found agate urns as fresh as day,              95

And marble’s language, Latin pure, discreet, 

—Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our friend? 

No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best! 

The Latin Epitaph

This section is marked off by a reference to the epitaph to be carved upon the tomb (the final reference being an inclusio, a repetition of the opening topic, marking the end of a section).

First Tully and Ulpian

Ulpian, “Domitius Ulpianus, a celebrated Roman jurist under the emperors Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Heliogabalus, and Alexander Severus, fragments of whose writings are found in the Pandects; he was murdered in Gaul, A. D. 230.” Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, Harpers’ Latin Dictionary (New York; Oxford: Harper & Brothers; Clarendon Press, 1891), 1925.

Tully is another name for the great Roman rhetorician Cicero:

“A famous Roman statesman and orator of the first century notable for both his political activity and influential writings and speeches (106–43 BC). As a political figure, Cicero was a key figure during the time of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Marc Antony, and Octavian. He defended senatorial authority and was exiled from Rome for his part in exposing a conspiracy by Catiline. Upon his return from exile, he opposed Caesar (d. 44 BC) and, later, Marc Antony. Eventually, Cicero was captured and killed by Antony’s men as an act of vengeance (see Plutarch, Cic., 48–49; Seneca, Contr., 7.2). As an orator, Cicero delivered over a hundred speeches which contributed to his reputation as one of the greatest orators of antiquity. As a writer, he produced hundreds of letters and other writings on philosophy, religion, and rhetoric. The size of Cicero’s literary output makes his writings immensely valuable for the study of early Christianity. In particular, his works on ancient rhetoric and philosophy were influential to the philosophical and religious environment in which early Christianity existed.”

John D. Barry et al., eds., “Cicero,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Who Is Cicero? Getting To Know Rome's Greatest Politician
Cicero

And so the Bishop agonizes over which will be his Latin phrase will be carved upon his tomb. First, he denigrates Gandolf’s choice of the later writer, Ulpian in favor of the more classical Tully. He calls Ulpian “gaudy”, which is a veiled sling at “vain” from Ecclesiastes as quoted in the first line of the poem. The poem could certainly be analyzed successfully against Ecclesiastes, such as “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Eccl. 4:4. The Bishop striving does spring from envy and will as fruitless as trying to gather up the wind. But it drives him nonetheless. Hence, the irony of his vain quest which he thoughtless denigrates as vanity.

We now move to the madness of the Bishop:

And then how I shall lie through centuries, 

And hear the blessed mutter of the mass, 

And see God made and eaten all day long,                80

And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste 

Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke! 

For as I lie here, hours of the dead night, 

He will hear nothing. Ever. And there is also the ghastly explanation of the Mass, “And see God made and eaten.”   He will feel no candle flame, nor taste the smoke.

He then seems to see himself being transformed into his tomb:

Dying in state and by such slow degrees, 

I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,                 85

And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point, 

And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop 

Into great laps and folds of sculptor’s-work: 

He dies “by such slow degrees.” The body represented on the tomb become his arms “clasping a crook”; his feet become stones; the sculptor’s work is his clothing. Thus, the slow degrees are a transmogrification into stone. His body is thus moving in the opposite direction of the Mass. While the bread is transformed into the Body; his body is turned to stone.

He continues his representation of decay by thinking of the candles

And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts 

Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,  

Having said he will die by degrees, he now seems to be dying by degrees. There is the wandering of his mind followed by nonsense:

About the life before I lived this life, 

And this life too, popes, cardinals and priests, 

Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount, 

He had a life before he was a priest, followed by “this life” of clerical honor. And then the mistake of Saint Praxed for Jesus’s sermon on the mount (mentioned above, in the grotesque mixture of sacred and rankly profane imagery on the frieze; and so we know the Bishop knows this fact but here his mind is wandering).

His wandering mind then turns to his mistress, their mother,

Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes, 

And new-found agate urns as fresh as day, 

Their beautiful mother is somehow coupled to urns: which would carry the ashes of a body. So, does he mean her eyes are the color of agate-urns? Or that she is somehow matched with the urns. And how could urns be either “new-found” or “fresh as days.”  This is the confused speech of one whose brain is failing.

He then catches himself and returns to his proposition of the Latin:

And marble’s language, Latin pure, discreet, 

—Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our friend? 

No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best! 

Elucescebat comes from Elucesco in Late Latin (after the period of Cicerco and thus must be from Ulpian). The verb means to dawn, shine forth. Here, then, something like “he shone”, which can then be taken figuratively for fame or brilliance of some sort.