Sacred Poems I Love – “The Conversion of St. Paul”

99% of my personal library consists of reference books. As a pastor, I’m required to bury my nose in commentaries, theologies, and cultural studies; and that’s just fine. I happen to enjoy that kind of reading. But we become like what we read and pastors who only read non-fiction reference material begin sounding like textbooks. For that reason, I always have a mixture of other types of literature in my reading diet. I listen to novels on audiobooks, and I typically have a book of poetry on my desk or bedside table. In this series of posts, I am sharing some of my favorite sacred poems. I hope they inspire you to search for more.

This is “The Conversion of St. Paul” by John Lettice

Behold! The illustrious Convert now invades
The Reign of Gentile Darkness. See! appalled
Black Superstition, with her baleful Throng
Of self-bred Fears, and unembodied Forms
That haunt Despair, the foul unholy Train
Of molten Idols and frantic Gods
Shrink at his Presence, like the fleeting Shades
Of sullen Night, when first Hyperion’s Orb
Scatters it’s purple Radiance o’er the Skies.
Nor long the Majesty of Jove supreme
Withstood the Thunder of the Preacher’s Tongue.
Totter’d his Throne, his golden Sceptre fell;
Nor more Olympus trembled at his Nod.
No longer smoak’d his odoriferous Shrines
With Frankincense and Myrrh, the fragrant Breath
of Araby; nor bleeding Hecatomb
Distain’d his blushing Altars. Solemn Praise
And Pray’rs devoutly breath’d, the Tears, the Sighs
Of penitential Grief, the broken Heart
Now form’d the Gentile’s purer Sacrifice
To the true God.— The philosophic Lore
Of learned Athens sunk e’er long, eclips’d
By Truth’s resistless Blaze. The vain Parade
Of empty Jargon and unmeaning Forms
No longer won the prostituted Praise
Of wondering Greece. The Stoic’s fond Pretence
Was urg’d no more; the boasted Apathist
Confss’d the Strength of Nature, own’d the Power,
The Use of Passion, deign’d to feel himself,
And sympathize the Miseries of Man.

Now long the Dictates of thy sensual Mind
Allur’d th’ unwary Step of Youth to Sin,
Lascivious Sophist! Thy Disciple erst
That quaff’d the luscious Sweets of Circe’s Cup.
Hung on the Siren’s fascinating Tongue,
And thrill’d with Transport at the Harlot’s Smile,
Now sighs for Pleasures which no Eye hath seen,
No Ear hath heard, nor mortal Heart conceiv’d.
No more he babbles of the foolish Dreams
Of self-concurring Atoms, and blind Chance
Omnipotent: where’er he turns his Eyes,
Amaz’d he traces, thro’ each wondrous Scene,
The Hand of Providence. Each Attribute
That points th’ Almighty Parent of the World
To Man’s Conceptions, legibly portray’d
On Nature’s Page, th’ enlightened Convert sees;
And as he views, his elevated Breast,
With inextinguishable Ardor, burns
For Truth, for Life and Immortality.
Where’er the Preacher roll’d the powerful Tide
Of Inspiration, from each fabled Haunt
Foul Error fled, whether the Roman School,
Or Attic Portico her presence held;
Or the dark Inmate of the Pagan Shrine,
She heap’d vain Incense to some Idol-God.

O! may those living Oracles of Light,
That boast the Sanction of thine hallow’d Pen,
Illustrious Convert! o’er each gloomy Land,
Where still pale Fear and Superstition reign,
Spread the rich Treasures of immortal Truth.
May the lewd Prophet’s Brothel-Paradise,
Base Hope of wretched Ignorance and Lust,
Allure no more the Pilgrim’s weary Step
To Mecca’s Walls: no longer Fohi’s Name
Usurp the prostrate Adoration, due
To God alone: nor more th’ unconscious Sun
Provoke the trembling Indian’s fruitless Vow.
But may one Mind, one Faith, on Hope, one God
Unite the scatter’d Progeny of Man.

Leave a Reply