(Notes edited by George Engle. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Limits and Renewals, as published and frequently reprinted between 1932 and 1950.)
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.