“Rabbi Ben Ezra” is a long poem of 192 lines expressing Robert Browning’s optimistic philosophy of life regarding both youth and old age. Youth is a time of struggle for glimpses of God’s omnipotence in an imperfect world. Old age can usher in the wisdom of spiritual maturity that comes from recognizing divine perfection behind earthly imperfection and from perceiving God’s unbounded love as well as God’s omnipotence.
Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092?-1167) was a Spanish rabbi who, in his middle years, was driven by persecution from Spain into a life of travel and scholarship. He was a theologian, a philosopher, a linguist, and a scientist. A strong believer in immortality, he found the second half of his life much more productive and satisfactory than the first half. The ideas of the poem are Browning’s, and they are not always in accord with the rabbi’s actual sentiments.
The first stanza of the poem enunciates the philosophy of the whole work and begins a series of exhortations encouraging readers to look forward to the aging process that brings a mature faith in God’s providence to take what is defective and partial in this world of seeming limitations and to make all right and whole.
Stanzas 2 through 9 refuse to chastise youth for the frustrated ambitions, doubts and confusions, and unsatisfying pleasures that serve the useful purpose of redirecting human striving for higher spiritual goals. Humankind was born to...
(The entire section is 508 words.)