St Augustine here is presented as someone desperate to save souls. His blanket suggests he has little concern for the luxuries of life, preferring to sleep rough so that he can devote himself to his task. In this respect (and others) he is like the ‘wicked’ messenger. His ‘coat of solid gold’ seems incongruous, though it might associate him with Christ who wore an expensive garment made from one piece of cloth. It might also suggest he has the wherewithal to redeem – buy back – the lost souls.
The song gets across a sense of urgency and relevance. Augustine appears to be as alive as the narrator and the listener. The blanket under his arm suggests that he has no time for sleep. On the contrary, he’s ‘tearing’ through the very place – ‘these quarters’ – where the narrator is. And that location makes his message seem relevant here and now. Furthermore his frenetic activity contrasts with that of the narrator who is asleep. The implication is that the narrator himself, and perhaps the listener, need to wake up – act now/’Arise’ – if they are to be saved. Despite his activity, the task is difficult because the souls he’s targeting ‘already have been sold’. The ‘have’, rather than ‘had’, again suggests these events are going on here and now rather than elsewhere and in the distant past.
In the second verse we find that Augustine is particularly concerned about ‘gifted kings and queens’ who have turned away from religion, none of them being prepared to be martyred for the faith (‘No martyr is among ye now’) . The injunction to ‘go on your way accordingly’ would seem to be spoken with bitterness. Their ‘way’ is not Christ (cf. ‘I am the way’), but the way to damnation. Ironically in one sense they do have a martyr among them, Augustine. In the world of the narrator’s dream he is about to be put to death by these people, as well as by the narrator (unlike the real Augustine who died naturally).
The saint informs the souls he’s trying to save that they’re not alone. ‘Not alone’ can be taken in two senses. First they have Augustine who will save them if they allow him to. Secondly they are not alone in being damned – because their companions are also damned. It’s in both senses that they should ‘know’ they’re not alone. By being aware of Augustine’s warning, and the danger of their companions, they will have the best chance of being saved. As it is, the saint’s warning is ignored.
The final verse refers to Augustine’s ‘fiery breath’. The metaphor makes him seem dragon-like and therefore frightening – as befits his warning of damnation. The narrator is among those who ‘put him out to death’, the expression ‘put him out’ (as distinct from just ‘put him…’) has overtones of extinguishing which suggests that his fiery breath gets extinguished. The narrator then realises that he is alone – again in two senses, perhaps. Augustine is not there to help him, but neither are the others who put him to death. The narrator is alone because he has to rely on himself if he is to be saved. He tells us he has woken up, and this can be taken both literally and metaphorically. That he might be saved is hinted at in the last line -‘ And bowed my head and cried’. The wording is similar to that of Mark’s account of Jesus’ death, where we’re told ‘he bowed his head and died’. Not only is the narrator, like Augustine earlier, associated with Jesus but (unlike Jesus) his present fate is to cry rather than die. This crying may represent the repentance which is necessary for his salvation.