The Calling of the Apostle Matthew

James Lasdun


The Calling of the Apostle Matthew

James Lasdun


Poem introduction

This is a poem about the calling of the apostle Matthew, who worked in a counting-house. There’s an allusion in the first stanza to a famous painting by Caravaggio, which has the same title as the poem.

The Calling of the Apostle Matthew

Not the abrupt way, frozen
In the one glance of a painter’s frame,
Christ in the doorway pointing, Matthew’s face
Bright with perplexity, the glaze
Of a lifetime at the countinghouse
Cracked in the split second’s bolt of being chosen,

But over the years, slowly,
Hinted at, an invisible curve;
Persistent bias always favoring
Backwardly the relinquished thing
Over the kept, the gold signet ring
Dropped in a beggar’s bowl, the eye not fully

Comprehending the hand, not yet;
Heirloom damask thrust in a passing
Stranger’s hand, the ceremonial saddle
(Looped coins, crushed clouds of inlaid pearl)
Given on an irresistible
Impulse to a servant. Where it sat,

A saddle-shaped emptiness
Briefly, obscurely brimming . . . Flagons,
Cellars of wine, then as impulse steadied
Into habit, habit to need,
Need to compulsion, the whole vineyard,
The land itself, groves, herds, the ancestral house,

Given away, each object’s
Hollowed-out void successively
More vivid in him than the thing itself,
As if renouncing merely gave
Density to having; as if
He’d glimpsed in nothingness a derelict’s

Secret of unabated,
Inverse possession . . . And only then,
Almost superfluous, does the figure
Step softly to the shelter door;
Casual, foreknown, almost familiar,
Calmly received, like someone long awaited.


from The Revenant (Cape, 1995), © James Lasdun 1995, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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