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A Rabbi Ben Ezra Post by :Alvin Category :Poems Author :Robert Browning Date :February 2011 Read :923

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A Rabbi Ben Ezra


Grow old along with me 1
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"


Not that, amassing flowers,
Youth sighed, "Which rose make ours,
Which lily leave and then as best recall!"
Not that, admiring stars, 10
It yearned "Nor Jove, nor Mars;
Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends them all!"


Not for such hopes and fears
Annulling youth's brief years,
Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark!
Rather I prize the doubt
Low kinds exist without,
Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.


Poor vaunt of life indeed,
Were man but formed to feed 20
On joy, to solely seek and find and feast:
Such feasting ended, then
As sure an end to men;
Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?


Rejoice we are allied
To That which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive!
A spark disturbs our clod;
Nearer we hold of God. 29
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe. 30


Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joys three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!


For thence,--a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks,--
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be, 40
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale.


What is he but a brute
Whose flesh has soul to suit,
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play?
To man, propose this test--
Thy body at its best,
How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?


Yet gifts should prove their use:
I own the Past profuse 50
Of power each side, perfection every turn:
Eyes, ears took in their dole,
Brain treasured up the whole;
Should not the heart beat once "How good to live and learn?"


Not once beat "Praise be Thine!
I see the whole design,
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too:
Perfect I call Thy plan:
Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete,--I trust what Thou shall do!" 60


For pleasant is this flesh;
Our soul, in its rose-mesh
Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest:
Would we some prize might hold
To match those manifold
Possessions of the brute,--gain most, as we did best!


Let us not always say,
"Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!"
As the bird wings and sings, 70
Let us cry "All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!"


Therefore I summon age
To grant youth's heritage,
Life's struggle having so far reached its term:
Thence shall I pass, approved
A man, for aye removed
From the developed brute; a God tho' in the germ.


And I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone 80
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplexed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.


Youth ended, I shall try
My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
And I shall weigh the same,
Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old. 90


For, note when evening shuts,
A certain moment cuts
The deed off, calls the glory from the gray:
A whisper from the west
Shoots--"Add this to the rest,
Take it and try its worth: here dies another day."


So, still within this life,
Tho' lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last,
"This rage was right i' the main, 100
That acquiescence vain:
The Future I may face now I have proved the Past."


For more is not reserved
To man, with soul just nerved
To act to-morrow what he learns to-day:
Here, work enough to watch
The Master work, and catch
Hints of the proper craft, tricks of the tool's true play.


As it was better, youth
Should strive, thro' acts uncouth, 110
Toward making, than repose on aught found made:
So, better, age, exempt
From strife, should know, than tempt
Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death, nor be afraid!


Enough now, if the Right
And Good and Infinite
Be named here, as thou callest thy hand thine own, 117
With knowledge absolute,
Subject to no dispute
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel alone. 120


Be there, for once and all,
Severed great minds from small,
Announced to each his station in the Past!
Was I, the world arraigned, 124
Were they, my soul disdained,
Right? Let age speak the truth and give us peace at last!


Now, who shall arbitrate?
Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive;
Ten, who in ears and eyes 130
Match me: we all surmise,
They, this thing, and I, that: whom shall my soul believe?


Not on the vulgar mass
Called "work," must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price;
O'er which, from level stand,
The low world laid its hand,
Found straight way to its mind, could value in a trice:


But all, the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb, 140
So passed in making up the main account:
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount 144


Thoughts hardly to be packed
Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke thro' language and escaped:
All I could never be,
All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped. 150


Ay, note that Potter's wheel, 151
That metaphor! and feel
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay,--
Thou, to whom fools propound,
When the wine makes its round,
"Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize to-day!"


Fool! All that is, at all,
Lasts ever, past recall;
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
What entered into thee, 160
_That_ was, is, and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay endure.


He fixed thee mid this dance
Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
Machinery just meant
To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.


What tho' the earlier grooves
Which ran the laughing loves 170
Around thy base, no longer pause and press? 171
What tho' about thy rim,
Scull-things in order grim
Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress 174


Look not thou down but up!
To uses of a cup
The festal board, lamp's flash and trumpet's peal,
The new wine's foaming flow,
The Master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what needst thou with earth's wheel?


But I need, now as then,
Thee, God, who mouldest men!
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
Did I,--to the wheel of life
With shapes and colours rife,
Bound dizzily,--mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst.


So take and use Thy work,
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand! 190
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!

NOTE

Abraham Ben Meir Ben Ezra, into whose mouth Browning puts the reflections in this poem, was born in Toledo, Spain, in 1090, and died about 1168. He was distinguished as philosopher, astronomer, physician, and poet. The ideas of the poem are drawn largely from the writings of Rabbi Ben Ezra. See Berdoe's _Browning Cyclopaedia_.

1. =Grow old along with me=. Come, and let us talk of old age.

7-15. =Not that=. Connect "not that" of lines 7 and 10, and the "not for, etc.," of 13, with "Do I remonstrate" in line 15.

29. =hold of=. Are like, share the nature of.

39-41. Compare _A Grammarian's Funeral_.

117. =be named=. That is, known, or distinguished.

124. =Was I= (whom) =the world arraigned=. Browning frequently omits the relative.

139-144. Compare lines 36-41. Note here and elsewhere in this poem the frequent repetition, and variation of the same idea.

151. =Potter's wheel=. The figure of the _Potter's wheel_ is frequent in Oriental literature. See Isaiah lxiv. 8, and Jeremiah xviii, 2-6; see also Fitzgerald's _Rubaiyat_, stanzas xxxvii, xxxviii, lxxxii-xc.

169-171. In the period of youth.

172-174. In old age.


(The end)
Robert Browning's poem: Rabbi Ben Ezra

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