Rabbi Ben Ezra is one of the greatest and most celebrated poems of Robert Browning. It is a Dramatic Monologue. It contains all the essentials of his Dramatic Monologue-a central speaker a critical moment of a dramatic situation, fervent spiritual experience, a silent listener, lyricism, imagery from nature and realism, rugged diction and obscurities.
According to Hugh walker,
‘The poem is the embodiment of all that is deepest in Browning’s philosophy of religion and all that is highest in his mortality.”
Rabbi Ben Ezra Substance: The Poetic Thought
Rabbi Ben Ezra is the speaker, the ‘Dramatic Apologist‘ in this poem. He stands in the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. According to some critics Rabbi Ben Ezra was actually a great Jewish scholar of the twelfth century Italy. He left behind a number of religious poems. However, in the present poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra represents Browning’s own philosophy.
Rabbi Ben Ezra advises ageing people not to be afraid of their approaching old age. The poem begins with the famous fines:
“Grow old along with me.
The best is yet to be.”
The beginning of the poem strikes its key note. God planned man’s life as one whole. The life from childhood to youth reflects only half of its nature.
Youth: Old Age
Browning speaks through Rabbi Ben Ezra that youth is the period of wild desires, indecision and romantic imagination. It is full of hopes and fears. Old age is the period of calm intelligence and sound wisdom.
“Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold.”
Browning has explained the transition from youth to old age in a beautiful metaphorical way as quoted above.
Rabbi Ben Ezra’s appreciation of Youth
Rabbi Ben Ezra does not denounce youth. Instead he regards the attributes of youth, wild desires and romantic imagination as the valued attributes of the human soul, which distinguishes man from low creatures-
“What is he but a brute
Whose flesh has soul to suit.”
If a man were born only to feed himself on food and joy, he would be akin to animals. By virtue of our soul we are related to God. We should be happy that we have the Divine soul within us.
Firm Faith in God
God planned man’s life as one whole. He provides all his creatures with the basic necessaries of life. He is the Giver, we are receivers of happiness or sorrow, fortune or misfortune everything comes from God. We should therefore welcome everything that comes to us from God. We should greet the joyful as well as the painful. Body and soul are two gifts of God. They are not opposed to each other. The body should be used for the progress of the soul through knowledge and noble thoughts. Browning says:
“Nor soli helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul.”
Rabbi Ben Ezra thanks God for all the knowledge and experiences which he earned in his youth. His knowledge and experiences which he earned in his youth through trial and error have led him to wisdom of old age.
“Therefore I summon age
To grant youth’s heritage.”
Now, he feels that the struggle of his life has reached its culmination.
Now he has entered old age. It is a period of judicious wisdom which can distinguish between good and evil. Most people judge the worth of a person on the score of his worldly achievements and possessions. But the real worth of man is spiritual progress in the eyes of God, it is the real progress of man. So, man should care for Gods judgement, and should ignore that of worldly-minded men.
Purpose of Life
According to Rabbi Ben Ezra, the sole purpose of life is to add to the perfection of soul through noble knowledge and sublime thoughts. He shuns the philosophy of indulgence in sensuous pleasures. He discards the philosophy of “Eat, Drink and be merry”. Browning has explained this idea with the help of a good metaphor of ‘Potter’s Wheel.’ God is the eternal Potter. Time is His revolving wheel. The soul is the clay on his wheel. It is placed in the centre.
“He fixed thee mid this dance
of plastic circumstance.”
Earthly events and circumstances of life are the aspects of spinning wheel of Time. They are meant to test the inclinations of soul. God makes sublime and lofty designs on the soul according to its merits. So Rabbi Ben Ezra places himself into the hands of God. He prays to God to amend the defects of his soul. May his old age perfect achievements of his youth. May his death perfect his life for the purpose of the next life.
Poetic Feeling and Imagery
The poetic feeling is full of religious server. It is genuine, not artificial. He has employed Poetic Imagery in a beautiful manner. His imagery is from real life and nature. Some examples are given below:
() He describes the people of low kind as “Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.”
(ii) In another, the body has been represented as “rose-mesh”.
(iii) An old man’s mind has been represented as the goldsmith’s fire-place.
(iv) Life of youth has been represented as a fierce battle.
(v) The metaphor of the Potter’s wheel is full of extremely beautiful poetic imagery.
(vi) The best imagery is found in the scene of Heaven.
“The festal board, lamp’s flesh and trumpet’s peal
The new wine’s foaming flow.
The master’s lips a- glow .”
Rabbi Ben Ezra is an exquisite piece of literary art. It is a great masterpiece. It is a piece of great reflective poetry. The image of a heavenly feast is superb and highly striking. It is one of the greatest poems of the Victorian age. According to Hugh Walker, it is “one of the greatest poems Browning ever wrote.” The philosophy of the poem is that the soul is immortal and that there is life beyond this life.
SHORT QUESTIONS ANSWERS
- What do metaphors Potter, Wheel and clay stand for in Rabbi Ben Ezra?
Ans. In Robert Browning’s celebrated poem. Rabbi Ben Ezra, the metaphor, Potter stands for God, and wheel stands for Time, clay stands for the soul. Browning writes that the wheel of Time spins fast, man’s soul les passive on the wheel. Just as potter moulds the clay, according to his wish, so God moulds the soul as he desires. Browning says further that the earth changes, but the soul and God are changeless. They do not change. Soul enters the body in the womb, remains in the body till death, and continues to live thereafter. God and soul do not die. They are immortal. Browning explains his doctrine of rebirth, his belief in the immortality of Soul and his complete faith in God in this poem.
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