Rabbi Ben Ezra

Robert Browning - 1812-1889
   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!'

   Not that, amassing flowers,
   Youth sighed, 'Which rose make ours, 
Which lily leave and then as best recall?'
   Not that, admiring stars,
   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
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
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe.

   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,
   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
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 
       shalt do!'

   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,
   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 though in the 
       germ.

   And I shall thereupon
   Take rest, ere I be gone
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.

   For, note when evening shuts,
   A certain moment cuts
The deed off, calls the glory from the grey:
   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,
   Though lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last, 
   'This rage was right i' the main,
   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, through acts uncouth, 
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, 
   With knowledge absolute,
   Subject to no dispute
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel 
       alone.

   Be there, for once and all,
   Severed great minds from small,
Announced to each his station in the Past! 
   Was I, the world arraigned,
   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
   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 straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

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

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

   Ay, note that Potter's wheel,
   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,
   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 souls its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

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

   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 need'st 
   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!
   Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete 
        the same!

More by Robert Browning

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

Gr-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
   Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
   God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming? 
   Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
   Hell dry you up with its flames!

At the meal we sit together;
   Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather, 
   Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork crop: scarcely
   Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt;
What's the Latin name for "parsley"?
   What's the Greek name for "swine's snout"?

Whew! We'll have our platter burnished, 
   Laid with care on our own shelf!
With a fire-new spoon we're furnished,
   And a goblet for ourself,
Rinsed like something sacrificial
   Ere 'tis fit to touch our chaps--
Marked with L. for our initial!
   (He-he! There his lily snaps!)

Saint, forsooth! While Brown Dolores 
   Squats outside the Convent bank
With Sanchicha, telling stories,
   Steeping tresses in the tank,
Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,
   --Can't I see his dead eye glow, 
Bright as 'twere a Barbary corsair's?
   (That is, if he'd let it show!)

When he finishes refection,
   Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise, to my recollection,
   As do I, in Jesu's praise.
I the Trinity illustrate,
   Drinking watered orange pulp--
In three sips the Arian frustrate;
   While he drains his at one gulp!

Oh, those melons! if he's able
   We're to have a feast; so nice!
One goes to the Abbot's table,
   All of us get each a slice.
How go on your flowers? None double?
   Not one fruit-sort can you spy?
Strange!--And I, too, at such trouble,
   Keep them close-nipped on the sly!

There's a great text in Galatians,
   Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine district damnations,
   One sure, if another fails;
If I trip him just a-dying,
   Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
   Off to hell, a Manichee?

Or, my scrofulous French novel
   On grey paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
   Hand and foot in Belial's gripe;
If I double down its pages
   At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
   Ope a sieve and slip it in't?

Or, there's Satan!--one might venture
   Pledge one's soul to him, yet leave
Such a flaw in the indenture
   As he'd miss till, past retrieve,
Blasted lay that rose-acacia
   We're so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine...
'St, there's Vespers! Plena gratia
  Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r--you swine!

Two in the Campagna

I

I wonder do you feel to-day
        As I have felt since, hand in hand,
We sat down on the grass, to stray
        In spirit better through the land,
This morn of Rome and May? 


II

For me, I touched a thought, I know,
        Has tantalized me many times,
(Like turns of thread the spiders throw
        Mocking across our path) for rhymes
To catch at and let go. 


III

Help me to hold it! First it left
        The yellowing fennel, run to seed
There, branching from the brickwork’s cleft,
        Some old tomb’s ruin: yonder weed
Took up the floating weft, 


IV

Where one small orange cup amassed
        Five beetles,—blind and green they grope
Among the honey-meal: and last,
        Everywhere on the grassy slope
I traced it. Hold it fast! 


V

The champaign with its endless fleece
        Of feathery grasses everywhere!
Silence and passion, joy and peace,
        An everlasting wash of air—
Rome’s ghost since her decease. 


VI

Such life here, through such lengths of hours,
        Such miracles performed in play,
Such primal naked forms of flowers,
        Such letting nature have her way
While heaven looks from its towers! 


VII

How say you? Let us, O my dove,
        Let us be unashamed of soul,
As earth lies bare to heaven above!
        How is it under our control
To love or not to love? 


VIII

I would that you were all to me,
        You that are just so much, no more.
Nor yours nor mine, nor slave nor free!
        Where does the fault lie? What the core
O’ the wound, since wound must be? 


IX

I would I could adopt your will,
        See with your eyes, and set my heart
Beating by yours, and drink my fill
        At your soul’s springs,—your part my part
In life, for good and ill. 


X

No. I yearn upward, touch you close,
        Then stand away. I kiss your cheek,
Catch your soul’s warmth,—I pluck the rose
        And love it more than tongue can speak—
Then the good minute goes. 


XI

Already how am I so far
        Out of that minute? Must I go
Still like the thistle-ball, no bar,
        Onward, whenever light winds blow,
Fixed by no friendly star? 


XII

Just when I seemed about to learn!
        Where is the thread now? Off again!
The old trick! Only I discern—
        Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn.

My Star

All, that I know
   Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
   (Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
   Now a dart of blue;
Till my friends have said
   They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
   They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
   Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it.