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

By The Christian Year (1827). III. “What went ye out to see?”

John Keble (1792–1866)

  • (Third Sunday in Advent)
  • “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?… But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.”
  • —St. Matthew xi. 7, 9.

  • WHAT went ye out to see

    O’er the rude sandy lea,

    Where stately Jordan flows by many a palm,

    Or where Gennesaret’s wave

    Delights the flowers to lave,

    That o’er her western slope breathe airs of balm.

    All through the summer night,

    Those blossoms red and bright

    Spread their soft breasts, unheeding, to the breeze,

    Like hermits watching still

    Around the sacred hill,

    Where erst our Saviour watched upon His knees.

    A Paschal moon above

    Seems like a saint to rove,

    Left shining in the world with Christ alone;

    Below, the lake’s still face

    Sleeps sweetly in th’ embrace

    Of mountains terrac’d high with mossy stone.

    Here may we sit, and dream

    Over the heavenly theme,

    Till to our soul the former days return;

    Till on the grassy bed,

    Where thousands once He fed,

    The world’s incarnate Maker we discern.

    O cross no more the main,

    Wandering so wild and vain,

    To count the reeds that tremble in the wind,

    On listless dalliance bound,

    Like children gazing round,

    Who on God’s works no seal of Godhead find.

    Bask not in courtly bower,

    Or sun-bright hall of power,

    Pass Babel quick, and seek the holy land—

    From robes of Tyrian dye

    Turn with undazzled eye

    To Bethlehem’s glade, or Carmel’s haunted strand.

    Or choose thee out a cell

    In Kedron’s storied dell,

    Beside the springs of Love, that never die;

    Among the olives kneel

    The chill night-blast to feel,

    And watch the Moon that saw thy Master’s agony.

    Then rise at dawn of day,

    And wind thy thoughtful way,

    Where rested once the Temple’s stately shade,

    With due feet tracing round

    The city’s northern bound,

    To th’ other holy garden, where the Lord was laid.

    Who thus alternate see

    His death and victory,

    Rising and falling as on angel wings,

    They, while they seem to roam,

    Draw daily nearer home,

    Their heart untravell’d still adores the King of kings.

    Or, if at home they stay,

    Yet are they, day by day,

    In spirit journeying through the glorious land,

    Not for light Fancy’s reed,

    Nor Honour’s purple meed,

    Nor gifted Prophet’s lore, nor Science’ wondrous wand.

    But more than Prophet, more

    Than Angels can adore

    With face unveiled, is He they go to seek;

    Blessèd be God, Whose grace

    Shows Him in every place

    To homeliest hearts of pilgrims pure and meek.