Home  »  The Poets’ Bible  »  The Conversion of St. Paul

W. Garrett Horder, comp. The Poets’ Bible: New Testament. 1895.

The Conversion of St. Paul

John Keble (1792–1866)

‘And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.’—ACTS IX. 4, 5.

THE MIDDAY sun, with fiercest glare,

Broods o’er the hazy, twinkling air;

Along the level sand

The palm-tree’s shade unwavering lies,

Just as thy towers, Damascus, rise

To greet yon wearied band.

The leader of that martial crew

Seems bent some mighty deed to do,

So steadily he speeds,

With lips firm clos’d and fixed eye,

Like warrior when the fight is nigh,

Nor talk nor landscape heeds.

What sudden blaze is round him pour’d,

As though all Heaven’s refulgent hoard

In one rich glory shone?

One moment—and to earth he falls:

What voice his inmost heart appals?—

Voice heard by him alone.

For to the rest both words and form

Seem lost in lightning and in storm,

While Saul, in wakeful trance,

Sees deep within that dazzling field

His persecuted Lord reveal’d

With keen yet pitying glance:

And hears the meek upbraiding call

As gently on his spirit fall

As if th’ Almighty Son

Were prisoner yet in this dark earth,

Nor had proclaim’d His royal birth,

Nor His great power begun.

“Ah, wherefore persecut’st thou me?

He heard and saw, and sought to free

His strain’d eye from the sight:

But Heaven’s high magic bound it there,

Still gazing, though untaught to bear

Th’ insufferable light.

“Who art Thou, Lord?” he falters forth:—

So shall Sin ask of heaven and earth

At the last awful day.

“When did we see Thee suffering nigh,

And pass’d Thee with unheeding eye?

Great God of judgment, say?”

Ah! little dream our listless eyes

What glorious presence they despise,

While, in our noon of life,

To power or fame we rudely press.—

Christ is at hand, to scorn or bless,

Christ suffers in our strife.

And though Heaven’s gate long since have clos’d,

And our dear Lord in bliss repos’d

High above mortal ken,

To every ear in every land

(Though meek ears only understand)

He speaks as He did then.

“Ah! wherefore persecute ye me?

’Tis hard, ye so in love should be

With your own endless woe.

Know, though at God’s right hand I live,

I feel each wound ye reckless give

To the least saint below.

“I in your care My brethren left,

Not willing ye should be bereft

Of waiting on your Lord.

The meanest offering ye can make—

A drop of water—for love’s sake,

In heaven, be sure, is stor’d.”

O by those gentle tones and dear,

When Thou hast stay’d our wild career,

Thou only hope of souls,

Ne’er let us cast one look behind,

But in the thought of Jesus find

What every thought controls.

As to Thy last Apostle’s heart

Thy lightning glance did then impart

Zeal’s never-dying fire,

So teach us on Thy shrine to lay

Our hearts, and let them day by day

Intenser blaze and higher.

And as each mild and winning note

(Like pulses that round harp-strings float,

When the full strain is o’er)

Left lingering on his inward ear

Music, that taught, as death drew near,

Love’s lesson more and more:

So, as we walk our earthly round,

Still may the echo of that sound,

Be in our memory stor’d:

“Christians! behold your happy state:

Christ is in these, who round you wait;

Make much of your dear Lord!”