At His Execution

(Notes edited by George Engle. with additional biblical references from  Daniel Hadas. )


First published in Limits and Renewals (1932), where it follows the story “The Manner of Men” collected in that volume.


The poem is closely connected with the story “The Manner of Men” which describes St Paul’s sea voyage and shipwreck as seen through the eyes of the captain and mate of the wheat ship conveying him to Rome.

Some critical comments

In The Art of Rudyard Kipling (1959) J.M.S.Tomkins writes (at page 107):

We have seen Paul through the eyes of the captain and mate of the wheat-ship, his promptness, his unshaken courage, his ubiquity, his “woman’s trick”, which displeases the Sidonian captain, “of taking the tone and colour of whoever he talked to”; neither of them understands him at all. The poem does not attempt to suggest the motive-power of Paul, but it indicates the cost to him of his service. The man who has been “made all things to all men” prays only at his death that Christ shall “restore me my self again.”

In Kipling’s Hidden Narratives Sandra Kemp (1988) Sandra Kemp writes:

…the poem …is deeply moving, for as a prayer to Christ it expresses in human terms the fact that that, for Paul, his “reward” would be restoration to himself after a lifetime of self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake.

In Rudyard Kipling (1999) Andrew Lycett writes (page 548):

Rudyard’s fascination with St Paul…is instructive. Like himself, the apostle was a writer and ideologue born outside his native land. St Paul’s evangelism provided a model for present-day political activism—a theme Baldwin took up when he spoke of party workers as “missionaries” and “apostles” and the British population as needing “salvation” or “redemption”. Most of all, Rudyard identified with St Paul’s desire to be “all things to all men”. As a reclusive individual, this was the last of his ambitions. But as an artist, pushing his ideas to their limits, it was his primary goal. While ostensibly about St Paul, his poem “At His Execution”…expressed the perennial dilemma of the creative man—that in adopting the voice and perspective of those around him, he loses his own.


Notes on the Text

[Title] The New Testament is silent on the subject of Paul’s death, but it is probable that he was executed in Rome on the charge of endangering public order and fostering treason against the official cult of the emperor.

[Line 1] The speaker is St Paul, and in the light of the last three lines of the poem, which are clearly a prayer, the whole poem ought perhaps to be regarded as a prayer, spoken or unspoken.

I am made all things to all men: a direct quotation from 1 Corinthians 9, 22, which continues “that I might by all means save some”.

[Line 2]   Hebrew, Roman, and Greek  See 1 Corinthians 9.20-21 (almost immediately before “I am made all things to all men”),

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law. To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

And see also Galatians 3.28:  [D.H.]

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”.  I[D.H.[

[Line 12] great Light and Word: This refers to Saul’s visual and auditory experience on the road to Damascus, as described in Acts 9, 3-4. Paul was originally called Saul (see Acts 13, 9: “Saul (who also is called Paul”).

[Line 17] At such small price  See Philippians 3.8,

I  count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. [D.H.]

[ Lines 20-21]  Now my course is done – And now is my reward   See 2 Timothy, 4.7,

 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.

 Philippians 3.14,

Ppress toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

And 1 Corinthians 9.24/26  (shortly after the “I am made all things to all men“): ”

 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain … I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.  [D.H.]



©George Engle 2005 All rights reserved