Context: Supposedly written by Pamphylax, a first century Christian, this poem presents an eyewitness account of the death of St. John, author of the fourth Gospel and Revelation. As he is dying, the Apostle recollects his life, especially his experience on Patmos, where he saw the vision of the Apocalypse. Ironically, this man–the last living man who had personally seen Jesus–fights the skepticism that the persecutions have brought into Christianity; foreshadowing the religious doubts of the nineteenth century, St. John is afraid that people will not believe a vision that they are just told about and fears that the new religion will die when there are no more survivors who actually knew Jesus. But he is partly assured that the love that he experienced at firsthand will not perish, because in writing both the Gospel and Revelation he has found a way, however humble, of preserving his witness for the generations that will follow. This hope is his means of finally reconciling himself to a death that might otherwise mean the end of Christianity.
Such ever was love's way: to rise, it stoops.Since I, whom Christ's mouth taught, was bidden teach,I went, for many years, about the world,Saying "It was so; so I heard and saw,"Speaking as the case asked: and men believed.Afterward came the message to myselfIn Patmos isle; I was not bidden teach,But simply listen, take a book and write,Nor set down other than the given word,With nothing left to my arbitramentTo choose or change: I wrote, and men believed. . . .