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

By The Christian Year (1827). VIII. 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 MID-DAY 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 closed and fixèd eye,

    Like warrior when the fight is nigh,

    Nor talk nor landscape heeds.

    What sudden blaze is round him poured,

    As though all Heaven’s refulgent hoard

    In one rich glory shone?

    One moment—and to earth he falls:

    What voice his inmost heart appalls?—

    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 revealed,

    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 proclaimed His royal birth,

    Nor His great power begun.

    “Ah! wherefore persecut’st thou Me?”

    He heard and saw, and sought to free

    His strained eyes 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 passed 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 gates long since have closed,

    And our dear Lord in bliss reposed,

    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 stored.”

    O by those gentle tones and dear,

    When Thou hast stayed 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 stored:

    “Christians! behold your happy state:

    Christ is in these, who round you wait,

    Make much of your dear Lord!”