Home  »  The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century  »  John Keble (1792–1866)

Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By The Christian Year (1827). VI. “O for a sculptor’s hand”

John Keble (1792–1866)

  • (Second Sunday after Easter)
  • “He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: I shall see Him, but not now; I shall behold Him, but not nigh; there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.”
  • —Numbers xxiv. 16, 17.

  • O FOR a sculptor’s hand,

    That thou might’st take thy stand,

    Thy wild air floating on the eastern breeze,

    Thy tranced yet open gaze

    Fixed on the desert haze,

    As one who deep in heaven some airy pageant sees.

    In outline dim and vast

    Their fearful shadows cast

    The giant forms of empires on their way

    To ruin: one by one

    They tower and they are gone,

    Yet in the Prophet’s soul the dreams of avarice stay.

    No sun or star so bright

    In all the world of light

    That they should draw to Heaven his downward eye:

    He hears th’ Almighty’s word,

    He sees the angel’s sword,

    Yet low upon the earth his heart and treasure lie.

    Lo! from yon argent field,

    To him and us revealed,

    One gentle Star glides down, on earth to dwell.

    Chained as they are below

    Our eyes may see it glow,

    And as it mounts again, may track its brightness well.

    To him it glared afar,

    A token of wild war,

    The banner of his Lord’s victorious wrath:

    But close to us it gleams,

    Its soothing lustre streams

    Around our home’s green walls, and on our church-way path.

    We in the tents abide

    Which he at distance eyed

    Like goodly cedars by the waters spread,

    While seven red altar-fires

    Rose up in wavy spires,

    Where on the mount he watched his sorceries dark and dread.

    He watched till morning’s ray

    On lake and meadow lay,

    And willow-shaded streams that silent sweep

    Around the bannered lines,

    Where by their several signs

    The desert-wearied tribes in sight of Canaan sleep.

    He watched till knowledge came

    Upon his soul like flame,

    Not of those magic fires at random caught:

    But true Prophetic light

    Flashed o’er him, high and bright,

    Flash’d once, and died away, and left his darken’d thought.

    And can he choose but fear,

    Who feels his GOD so near,

    That when he fain would curse, his powerless tongue

    In blessing only moves?—

    Alas! the world he loves

    Too close around his heart her tangling veil hath flung.

    Sceptre and Star divine,

    Who in Thine inmost shrine

    Hast made us worshippers, O claim Thine own

    More than Thy seers we know—

    O teach our love to grow

    Up to Thy heavenly light, and reap what Thou hast sown.