The speaker of the poem, "Rabbi Ben Ezra" begins by telling his audience to trust in God and not be afraid of anything. The speaker is an older man who is more content now that he is in his senior years. He feels wiser and more knowing because of his age. He tells the audience that they should not be concerned with anything that happens to them, for everything is the will of God and God has his reasons. By doing this, however, the speaker finds a contradiction that he must look into.

For thence, — a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks, —
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,
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?

Questions

1. When the speaker questions whether life can succeed in the places that it fails, is he questioning life's failures in the work world (realism) or its failures in the spiritual world (fantastic)?

2. In the second stanza of this passage, the speaker turns things inside out by saying that a man's soul suits his body as well that soul is doing work while the arms and legs play. Does the speaker state this to express his belief that the spirit must be satisfied before anything else?

3. The question the speaker asks at the end of the second stanza asks whether the soul can or cannot function while the body is at its best. Is the speaker questioning this is a spiritual context wondering if someone can go far with no soul? Or is he asking how strong the soul is in comparison to the body?


Victorian Overview R. Browning

Last modified 8 October 2007