Discuss Browning's "Rabbi Ben Azra" as a philosophical poem. 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This poem argues is actually turned to by many critics as being an excellent example of how Browning used the poetic form of the dramatic monologue to successfully present his own philosophy and religious ideas on life. In particular, what comes across so strongly in "Rabbi Ben Ezra" is the way in which old age is a better and superior state to youth in the way that it gives greater faith and wisdom in god and is a preparation for the ultimate spiritual epiphany which will occur after death. The philosophical nature of this poem is therefore presented in this view of the aging process and how it prepares humans for death, which Browning saw as the final reaching of the perfection in heaven. Note how the first stanza of this poem presents these ideas:

Grow old along with me!

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!"

The voice of the speaker in this poem is therefore characterised by resilient optimism in his declaration that "the best is yet to be" and that God is ultimately in control of our life, so growing old is nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, the joyful imperative of the first line indicates how important it is to grow old and to gain the greater wisdom that is not available to humans in their youth. The philosophical nature of this poem is therefore present in the way that it explores Browning's beliefs through examining a series of opposites such as youth and age, and ignorance and wisdom, through the spectrum of the aging process and ultimately, Browning's beliefs about the imperfections of the world and the perfection of heaven.

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