From Browning's Childe Roland:
If there push’d any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopp’d; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock’s harsh swarth leaves, bruis’d as to baulk
All hope of greenness? ’T is a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute’s intents.
Per Wiktionary, the "bents" are
Any of various stiff or reedy grasses.
But why were they "jealous"? I found several senses of the word, but I'm not sure. This is not helped by the fact that I'm not sure how to understand "else" here. I get something like:
"The bents were also [protective of something]"
"The bents were [enviously resentful of someone] otherwise"
This does not seem right.
Should the bents be jealous of something? All the high thistle-stalks have their heads chopped, so there's nothing to be jealous of.
Does the poet imply that it is the jealous bents that somehow led to the chopping of the thistle heads? That's odd.
P.S. I've just come across this explanation that explained nothing to me: