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Title: The Hound of Heaven
Author: Thompson, Francis, 1859-1907
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Hound of Heaven" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]

[Illustration: Front end papers]




  When she lit her glimmering tapers
  Round the day's dead sanctities  _Page 52_]

[Illustration: Title page]












The Rev. Mark J. McNeal, S. J., who was one of the successors of
Lafcadio Hearn in the chair of English Literature at the Tokyo Imperial
University, in an interesting article recounts the following incident
of his experience in that institution.  "I was seated on the examining
board with Professor Ichikawa, the dean of the English department...
There entered the room a student whom I recognized as among the best in
the class, a sharp young chap with big Mongolian eyes, and one who had
never to my knowledge given any hint of even a leaning toward
Christianity.  I remembered, however, that his thesis submitted for a
degree had been a study of Francis Thompson.  Following the usual
custom, I began to question him about his thesis.

"'Why did you choose Thompson?'

"'Well, he is quite a famous poet.'

"'What kind of poet is he?'

"'We might call him a mystic.'

"'Is he a mystic of the orthodox sort, like Cynewulf or Crashaw; or an
unorthodox mystic, like Blake or Shelley?'

"'Oh, he's orthodox.'

"'Well, now, what do you consider his greatest production?'

"'Why, I should say "The Hound of Heaven."

"'Well, what on earth does Thompson mean by that Hound?'

"'He means God.'

"'But is not that a rather irreverent way for Thompson to be talking
about God, calling Him a hound?  What does he mean by comparing God to
a hound?'

"'Well, he means the pursuit of God.'

"'Oh, I see, Thompson is pursuing God, is he?'

"'Oh, no.  He is rather running away from God.'

"'Well, then, God is pursuing Thompson, is that it?'

"'Yes, that's it.'

[Illustration: Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears  _Page 45_]

'"But, see here; according to Thompson's belief God is everywhere,
isn't He?'


"'Well, then, how can God be going after Thompson?  Is it a physical

"'No.  It is a moral pursuit.'

"'A moral pursuit!  What's that?  What is God after?'

"'He is after Thompson's love.'

"And then we, the Jesuit and the Buddhist, began to follow the windings
and turnings of that wondrous poem, the most mystic and spiritual thing
that has been written since St. Teresa laid down her pen.  What the
other member of the examining board thought of it all I never heard.
But I think I acquired a satisfactory answer to that question so often
put to me: Can the Japanese really grasp a spiritual truth?  Do they
really get at the meaning of Christianity?  This, of a race that has
produced more martyrs than any other nation since the fall of Rome and
that kept the Faith for two centuries without a visible symbol or

The incident supplies matter for other conclusions more germane to the
subject of this essay.  The late Bert Leston Taylor, a journalist whose
journalism had a literary facet of critical brilliance, once declared
that he could not perceive the excellence of Francis Thompson's poetry.
When someone suggested that it might be that he was not spiritual
enough, the retort was laconic and crushing, "Or, perhaps, not
ecclesiastical enough."  Like most good retorts Taylor's had more wit
than truth.  He was obsessed by the notion, prevalent among a certain
class of literary critics, that Francis Thompson's fame was the
artificially stimulated applause of a Catholic coterie, whose
enthusiasm could hardly be shared by readers with no particular
curiosity about Catholic ideas or modes of religion.  It was probably
this obsession which prompted that able critic, Mr. H. D. Traill, to
write to Mr. Wilfrid Meynell when the "Hound of Heaven" first appeared:
"I quite agree with you in thinking him a remarkable poet, but, if he
is ever to become other than a 'poet's poet' or 'critic's poet'--if
indeed it is worth anyone's ambition to be other than that--it will
only be by working in a different manner.  A 'public' to appreciate the
'Hound of Heaven' is to me inconceivable."  Mr. William Archer, an
experienced judge of popular likes, was of the same opinion.  "Yet,"
Francis Thompson's biographer tells us, "in the three years after
Thompson's death the separate edition of the 'Hound of Heaven' sold
fifty thousand copies; and, apart from anthologies, many more thousands
were sold of the books containing it."  When the "Hound of Heaven" is
selected for study, and explained in words of one syllable, by a young
Japanese student in the Tokyo Imperial University almost thirty years
after the poem was published, one can hardly maintain that it calls for
certain ecclesiastical affiliations before it can be understood and
felt, or that its "public" is necessarily circumscribed.

It must be owned indeed that Francis Thompson was a puzzle to his
contemporaries of the nineties.  He paid the usual penalty of vaulting
originality.  The decade is famous for its bold experiments and shining
successes in the art of poetry.  One might expect that a public, grown
accustomed to exquisitely wrought novelties and eager to extend them a
welcome, would have been preordained to recognize and hail the genius
of Thompson.  But it was not so.  The estheticism of the nineties, for
all its sweet and fragile flowers, was rooted in the dark passions of
the flesh.  Its language was the language of death and despair and
annihilation and the Epicurean need of exhausting the hedonistic
possibilities of life ere the final engulfing in darkness and silence.
When the speech of Thompson, laden with religion and spirituality and
Christian mystery, broke with golden turbulence upon the world of the
nineties, the critics were abashed and knew not what to think of it.
The effect was somewhat like that produced by Attwater, in Stevenson's
"The Ebb-Tide," when he began suddenly to discourse on Divine Grace to
the amazement of Herrick and his crew of scoundrels from the stolen
_Farallone_.  "Oh," exclaimed the unspeakable Huish, when they had
recovered breath, "Oh, look 'ere, turn down the lights at once, and the
Band of 'Ope will oblige!  This ain't a spiritual séance."  It had
something akin to the madness of poor Christopher Smart when he fell
into the habit of dropping on his knees and praying in the crowded
London streets.  There was incongruity, verging on the indecent, in
this intrusion of religion into art, as if an archangel were to attend
an afternoon tea in Mayfair or an absinthe session in a Bohemian cafe.
It was, in Dr. Johnson's phrase, "an unnecessary deviation from the
usual modes of the world" which struck the world dumb.

The poetry of Francis Thompson appeared in three small volumes:
"Poems," published in 1893; "Sister Songs," in 1895; and "New Poems,"
in 1897.  The first of these volumes contained the "Hound of Heaven";
though it staggered reviewers at large, they yielded dubious and
carefully measured praise and waited for developments.  The pack was
unleashed and the hue-and-cry raised on the coming of "Sister Songs"
and "New Poems."  Andrew Lang and Mr. Arthur Symons led the chorus of
disapproval.  It is amusing to read now that Francis Thompson's "faults
are fundamental.  Though he uses the treasure of the Temple, he is not
a religious poet.  The note of a true spiritual passion never once
sounds in his book."  Another critic of the poet declares that "nothing
could be stronger than his language, nothing weaker than the impression
it leaves on the mind.  It is like a dictionary of obsolete English
suffering from a severe fit of delirium tremens."  A prominent literary
periodical saw, in the attempt to foist Thompson on the public as a
genuine poet, a sectarian effort to undermine the literary press of
England.  In the course of a year the sale of "Sister Songs" amounted
to 349 copies.  The "New Poems" fared worse; its sale, never large,
practically ceased a few years after its appearance, three copies being
sold during the first six months of 1902.

[Illustration: Across the margent of the world I fled  _Page 47_]

And all this despite strong recommendations from fastidious quarters.
George Meredith's recognition was instantaneous and unreserved.
Henley's was accompanied by reproofs.  Mr. Richard LeGallienne was
enthusiastic.  Mr. William Archer said to a friend, "This is not work
which can possibly be _popular_ in the wide sense; but it is work that
will be read and treasured centuries hence by those who really care for
poetry."  And he wrote to Thompson, "I assure you no conceivable
reaction can wipe out or overlay such work as yours.  It is firm-based
on the rock of absolute beauty; and this I say all the more confidently
because it does not happen to appeal to my own speculative, or even my
own literary, prejudices."  The most extravagant admirer of all, and
the one who will probably turn out to have come nearer the mark than
any of Francis Thompson's contemporaries, was Mr. J. L. Garvin, the
well known English leader-writer in politics and literature.  "After
the publication of his second volume," he wrote in the English
_Bookman_, March 1897, "when it became clear that the 'Hound of Heaven'
and 'Sister Songs' should be read together as a strict lyrical
sequence, there was no longer any comparison possible except the
highest, the inevitable comparison with even Shakespeare's Sonnets.
The Sonnets are the greatest soliloquy in literature.  The 'Hound of
Heaven' and 'Sister Songs' are the second greatest; and there is no
third.  In each case it is rather consciousness imaged in the magic
mirror of poetry than explicit autobiography....  Even with the
greatest pages of 'Sister Songs' sounding in one's ears, one is
sometimes tempted to think the 'Hound of Heaven' Mr. Thompson's
high-water mark for unimaginable beauty and tremendous import--if we do
damnably iterate Mr. Thompson's tremendousness, we cannot help it, he
thrusts the word upon us.  We do not think we forget any of the
splendid things of an English anthology when we say that the 'Hound of
Heaven' seems to us, on the whole, the most wonderful lyric (if we
consider 'Sister Songs' as a sequence of lyrics) in the language.  It
fingers all the stops of the spirit, and we hear now a thrilling and
dolorous note of doom and now the quiring of the spheres and now the
very pipes of Pan, but under all the still sad music of humanity.  It
is the return of the nineteenth century to Thomas à Kempis....  The
regal air, the prophetic ardors, the apocalyptic vision, Mr. Thompson
has them all.  A rarer, more intense, more strictly predestinate genius
has never been known to poetry.  To many this will seem the simple
delirium of over-emphasis.  The writer signs for those others, nowise
ashamed, who range after Shakespeare's very Sonnets the poetry of a
living poet, Francis Thompson."

We do not associate Mr. Arnold Bennett with any of the ideas in
religion or literature which supplied impulse to Francis Thompson.  It
is a surprise of the first magnitude to find him carried away into the
rapture of prophecy by the "Sister Songs."  "I declare," he says in an
article appearing in July, 1895, "that for three days after this book
appeared I read nothing else.  I went about repeating snatches of
it--snatches such as--

  'The innocent moon, that nothing does but shine,
  Moves all the labouring surges of the world.'

My belief is that Francis Thompson has a richer natural genius, a finer
poetical equipment, than any poet save Shakespeare.  Show me the
divinest glories of Shelley and Keats, even of Tennyson, who wrote the
'Lotus Eaters' and the songs in the 'Princess,' and I think I can match
them all out of this one book, this little book that can be bought at
an ordinary bookseller's shop for an ordinary prosaic crown.  I fear
that in thus extolling Francis Thompson's work, I am grossly outraging
the canons of criticism.  For the man is alive, he gets up of a morning
like common mortals, not improbably he eats bacon for breakfast; and
every critic with an atom of discretion knows that a poet must not be
called great until he is dead or very old.  Well, please yourself what
you think.  But, in time to come, don't say I didn't tell you."  A
whole generation of men has passed away since these words appeared; but
they do not seem to be so fantastic and whimsical now as they seemed to
be then.

[Illustration: I said to dawn: Be sudden  _Page 47_]

It can scarcely be claimed that the prophecies of Meredith, Mr. Garvin,
and Mr. Arnold Bennett were of the kind which ultimately assures the
event.  The reading-world dipped curiously into the pages about which
there was so much conflict of opinion; it was startled and bewildered
by a novel and difficult form of verse; and finally it agreed with the
majority of critics that it was mostly nonsense--too Catholic to be
catholic.  The poems sold badly, the 'Hound of Heaven' faring best.  It
is a common mark of genius to be ahead of its time.  Even Thompson's
coreligionists were cold.  Indeed, it may be said they were the
coldest.  If the general reading-public of the nineties suspected
Thompson of being a Victorian reactionary of ultra-montane mould, the
Catholic public feared him for his art.  It was a wild unfettered thing
which took strange liberties with Catholic pieties and could not be
trusted to run in divine grooves.  One can afford to extenuate the
attitude of reserve.  It was a period when brilliant heterodoxies and
flaunting decadence were in the air.  The fact is, that critics and
public delivered Thompson over to the Catholics; and the Catholics
would have nothing to do with him.  Canon Sheehan could write of
Thompson in 1898:

"Only two Catholics--literary Catholics--have noticed this surprising
genius--Coventry Patmore and Wilfrid Meynell.  The vast bulk of our
coreligionists have not even heard his name, although it is already
bruited amongst the Immortals; and the great Catholic poet, for whose
advent we have been straining our vision, has passed beneath our eyes,
sung his immortal songs, and vanished."  This was written almost ten
years before Thompson died, but after his resolve to write no more

It is easily within the probabilities that, small as was Thompson's
audience during his lifetime, it would have been still smaller but for
the extraneous interest excited by the strange story of his life.  He
was born on December 16, 1859, in Preston, Lancashire, whence he went
at the age of eleven to Ushaw College, a Catholic boarding school for
boys.  This is the college where Lafcadio Hearn received his education;
he had left the school a year or two before young Thompson's arrival.
Both boys were designed for the priesthood.  Hearn lost his faith then
or shortly afterwards: Thompson's irregular habits of dreamy
abstraction rendered him unfit for a sacerdotal career.  When he had
completed his course at college, where he had distinguished himself in
English composition and attained respectable standing in the classics,
his father, a hard-working physician, entered the lad, now eighteen, as
a student of medicine in Owen College, Manchester.  The Thompson family
had moved from Preston to Ashton-under-Lyne, where proximity to
Manchester made it possible for the young medical student to spend his
nights at home.

Francis was of the silent and secretive sort where he could not hope to
find intelligent sympathy.  This, and some cloudy compromise with his
sense of filial dutifulness, will perhaps explain why he passed six
years as a student of medicine without any serious purpose of becoming
a physician and without informing his father of his disinclination.
Three examinations and three failures at intervals of a year were
necessary to convince the father of the true state of affairs.  Stern
measures were adopted; and, although the consequences were pitifully
tragical, it is hard to blame the father of Francis.  How are we to
discover the extraordinary seal in a case that requires special and
extraordinary treatment?

Francis was twenty-four years old with no more idea than a child's of
how life is planned on practical lines of prosperity.  The senior
Thompson thought it time for him to learn and issued orders to find
employment of some remunerative kind.  Accordingly during the next two
years Francis served indifferently for brief periods as a clerk in the
shop of a maker of surgical instruments and as a canvasser of an
encyclopedia.  Both experiments in the art of making a living were
failures, increasing paternal dissatisfaction.  The desperate young man
then enlisted in the army, and after a few weeks' of drilling was
rejected on the score of physical weakness.


  I knew how the clouds arise,
  Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings  _Page 51_]

During these shiftless and unhappy years as a listless medical student
and laggard apprentice the poet's chief solace was the public library
of Manchester.  In his daily absences from home his misery suggested
another solace of a sinister kind.  After a severe illness during his
second year of medicine his mother, says his biographer, presented him
with a copy of De Quincey's "Confessions of an Opium Eater."  It is
incredible that a _helluo librorum_, like Thompson, should have reached
the age of twenty without ever having read a book which is one of the
first to attract every bright school-boy.  This would be particularly
true of a school-boy who lived near Manchester, De Quincey's own town.
But the evidence seems to be against probabilities.  Thompson succumbed
completely to the influence of the great genius whose temper and
circumstances of life were singularly like his own.  Experiments in
laudanum were made and habits contracted which accentuated a natural
unfitness to wrestle with the practical problems of getting on and
rendered family intercourse drearier than ever.

In 1885, when he was twenty-six years old, Francis decided to leave
home.  After a week in Manchester he requested and received from his
father the price of a railway ticket for London.  The trip to the vast
and strange city must have been made with only the vaguest of plans for
the future.  The despairing youth seemed to have no other purpose than
to rid his father of his vexatious presence.  There were friends in
London, on one of whom Francis was directed to call for a weekly
allowance from home.  But a temperamental reluctance kept the young man
away from those who could help him, and even the weekly allowance after
a while came to be unclaimed.  The rough, cyclonic forces of the huge
city caught this helpless child of a man's years in the full swing of
their blind sweep and played sad tricks with him.  In a period
extending over nearly three years Francis Thompson led the life of a
vagrant in the streets and alleys.  He made one or two brave essays at
regular work of the most commonplace character, but without success.
The worn copies of Aeschylus and Blake in the pockets of this ragged
and gaunt roustabout contained no useful hints for the difficulties of
the peculiar situation; its harshness could be transmuted into
temporary and blessed oblivion by a drug whenever the means for
purchase could be acquired.  The Guildhall Library was much frequented
until shabbiness was excluded by the policeman.  This outcast poet,
approaching thirty years of age, was at various times a bootblack, a
newsboy, a vendor of matches, a nocturnal denizen of wharves and
lounger on the benches of city-parks.  His cough-racked frame was the
exposed target of cold and rain and winds.  He became used to hunger.
At one time a six-pence, for holding a horse, was his only earnings for
a week.  It was while he was aimlessly roaming the streets one night
almost delirious from starvation that a prosperous shoe-merchant,
benevolently engaged in religious rescue-work, came across Thompson,
and, struck by the incongruity of his gentle speech, induced him to
accept employment in his shop.  But one cannot allow business to suffer
on account of an inveterate blunderer, even though the blunderer wear
wings and has endeared himself to the family.  Mr. McMaster, kindly
Anglican lay-missionary, who deserves grateful remembrance for
recognizing and temporarily helping merit under the most deceptive
disguise, was obliged much against his inclination to dismiss Francis
and to allow him to fall back into the pit of squalor and vagabondage.

But the few months of reprieve had supplied Thompson with the impulse
to write.  Shortly after he was dropped from the McMaster establishment
Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, the editor of _Merry England_, a Catholic
magazine, received the following letter: "_Feb. 23rd, '87_--Dear
Sir,--In enclosing the accompanying article for your inspection, I must
ask pardon for the soiled state of the manuscript.  It is due, not to
slovenliness, but to the strange places and circumstances under which
it has been written.  For me, no less than Parolles, the dirty nurse
experience has something fouled.  I enclose stamped envelope for a
reply, since I do not desire the return of the manuscript, regarding
your judgment of its worthlessness as quite final.  I can hardly expect
that where my prose fails my verse will succeed.  Nevertheless, on the
principle of 'Yet will I try the last,' I have added a few specimens of
it, with the off chance that one may be less poor than the rest.
Apologizing very sincerely for any intrusion on your valuable time, I
remain yours with little hope,

"Francis Thompson.

"Kindly address your rejection to the Charing Cross Post Office."


  Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
  ..... smitten me to my knee;
  I am defenceless utterly   _Page 55_]

The unpromising aspect of the manuscript, thus introduced, was the
occasion of editorial neglect for some months.  When at last Mr.
Meynell gave it his attention he was electrified into action.  He wrote
to the address given by Thompson.  The letter was returned from the
dead-letter office after many days.  Then he published one of the poems
mentioned in the letter, "The Passion of Mary," in the hope that the
author would disclose his whereabouts.  The plan succeeded and brought
a letter from Thompson with a new address.  Mr. Meynell tried to waylay
him at the new address, a chemist's shop in Drury Lane, but with
characteristic shiftlessness the poet forgot to call there for possible
letters.  But the seller of drugs finally established communications
between the editor and the poet, and one day, more than a year after
Thompson's first literary venture had been sent, he visited the office
of _Merry England_.  Mr. Everard Meynell, the poet's biographer, thus
describes the entrance of the poet into his father's sanctum.  "My
father was told that Mr. Thompson wished to see him.  'Show him up,' he
said, and was left alone.  Then the door opened, and a strange hand was
thrust in.  The door closed, but Thompson had not entered.  Again it
opened, again it shut.  At the third attempt a waif of a man came in.
No such figure had been looked for; more ragged and unkempt than the
average beggar, with no shirt beneath his coat and bare feet in broken
shoes, he found my father at a loss for words.  'You must have had
access to many books when you wrote that essay,' was what he said.
'That,' said Thompson, his shyness at once replaced by an acerbity that
afterwards became one of the most familiar of his never-to-be-resented
mannerisms, 'that is precisely where the essay fails.  I had no books
by me at the time save Aeschylus and Blake.' There was little to be
done for him at that interview save the extraction of a promise to call
again.  He made none of the confidences characteristic of a man seeking
sympathy and alms.  He was secretive and with no eagerness for plans
for his benefit, and refused the offer of a small weekly sum that would
enable him to sleep in a bed and sit at a table."

By patience and delicately offered kindnesses Mr. and Mrs. Meynell at
length won the difficult privilege of helping the shy, nervous,
high-strung spirit wandering in pain, hunger and exile amid the
indecencies of extreme penury in a great city.  They were helped by the
friendly sympathy and care of Premonstratensian and Franciscan monks.
Thompson had sounded, and become familiar with, the depths of social
degradation in all its external aspects of sordidness.  The most
extraordinary part of his singular experience is that he affords a
striking instance of the triumph of soul and mind over beleaguering
circumstance.  The nightmare of his environment failed to subdue him.
He preserved his spiritual sensitiveness, and literary ideals of a most
exalted kind, through the most depressing and demoralizing experiences.
The following passage in that first essay offered to Mr. Meynell,
entitled "Paganism: Old and New," a vindication of Christian over pagan
ideals in art, shows the rich, colorful tone of mind of one who could
walk unstained among the world's impurities.  "Bring back then, I say,
in conclusion, even the best age of Paganism, and you smite beauty on
the cheek.  But you _cannot_ bring back the best age of Paganism, the
age when Paganism was a faith.  None will again behold Apollo in the
forefront of the morning, or see Aphrodite in the upper air loose the
long lustre of her golden locks.  But you _may_ bring back--_dii
avertant omen_--the Paganism of the days of Pliny, and Statius, and
Juvenal; of much philosophy, and little belief; of superb villas and
superb taste; of banquets for the palate in the shape of cookery, and
banquets for the eye in the shape of art; of poetry singing dead songs
on dead themes with the most polished and artistic vocalisation; of
everything most polished, from the manners to the marble floors; of
vice carefully drained out of sight, and large fountains of virtue
springing in the open air;--in one word, a most shining Paganism
indeed--as putrescence also shines."  Unlike George Gissing and so many
others who had to wade to celebrity through sloughs of bitter
destitution, Francis Thompson felt no inclination to capitalize his
expert knowledge of back streets and alleys for profit and the morbid
entertainment of the curious.  His single failing in yielding to the
attraction of an insidious drug seemed to be impotent to affect his
high admirations and his clear perceptions in the regions of honor and


  Yea, faileth now even dream
  The dreamer  _Page 55_]

It is surely one of the literary glories of a distinguished family that
Mr. and Mrs. Meynell succeeded in helping Thompson to emancipate
himself from the enslavement of a tyrannic habit.  His poetic genius
began to flower in the new liberty.  For the next ten years interest in
his poetry and literary friends and connections, few and select, made
his life comparatively happy.  But he maintained a large measure of
independence to the last.  That he was never ungrateful to those who
befriended him, his poems are ample proof.  But in London he always had
his own lodgings in a cheap but respectable quarter of the city.  His
unpunctual and preoccupied manner sometimes created small distresses
for his devoted friends to relieve.  During the last ten years of his
life he wrote little poetry.  His vitality, never vigorous, was ebbing
and unequal to the demands of inspired verse.  But during these years
of decline he wrote much golden prose.  He was a regular and highly
valued contributor to the _Academy_, the _Athenaeum_, the _Nation_, and
the _Daily Chronicle_.  One can hardly fail to be impressed by the mere
industry of a writer of reputed slack habits of work.  The published
volume of his selected essays is literary criticism, as learned and
allusive as Matthew Arnold's, and as nicely poised, with the advantage
of being poised in more rarified heights than Arnold's wings could hope
to scale.  In this book is his classic and most wonderful essay on
Shelley, written before his strength began to flag, in which prose
seems to be carried off its feet, as it were, in a very storm of poetic
impulse.  The published essays are not a tithe of Thompson's writings
for the press.  Moreover, we have a study of Blessed John de la Salle,
a little volume on "Health and Holiness," and a large "Life of St.
Ignatius Loyola," none of them suggesting even remotely the plantigrade
writing of the mechanical hack.

During the last year of his life, when consumption had almost
completely undermined resistance, his old habit reasserted its empire.
But it was not for long, and can hardly be said to have hastened the
end, which came on November 13, 1907, in the Hospital of St. John and
St. Elizabeth.  He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Kensal Green, and
on his coffin were roses from George Meredith's garden, with the
poet-novelist's message: "A true poet, one of the small band."

The "Hound of Heaven" has been called the greatest ode in the English
language.  Such was the contemporary verdict of some of the most
respected critics of the time, and the conviction of its justness
deepens with the passing of years.  Recall the writers of great odes,
Milton, Dryden, Pope, Gray, Collins, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley,
Coleridge,--the best they have done will not outstare the "Hound of
Heaven."  Where shall we find its equal for exaltation of mood that
knows no fatigue from the first word to the last?  The motion of
angelic hosts must be like the movement of this ode, combining in some
marvellous and mysterious way the swiftness of lightning with the
stately progress of a pageant white with the blinding white light of an
awful Presence.  The note of modernness is the quality which is most
likely to mislead us in forecasting favorably the durability of
contemporary poetry, appealing as it does to so many personal issues
irrelevant to the standards of immortal art.  This is precisely the
note which is least conspicuous in the "Hound of Heaven."  The poem
might have been written in the days of Shakespeare, or, in a different
speech, by Dante or Calderon.  The Rev. Francis P. LeBuffe, S. J., has
written an interesting book on the "Hound of Heaven," pointing out the
analogy between the poem and the psalms of David; and another Jesuit,
the late Rev. J. F. X. O'Connor, in a published "Study" of the poem,
says that in it Francis Thompson "seems to sing, in verse, the thought
of St. Ignatius in the spiritual exercises,--the thought of St. Paul in
the tender, insistent love of Christ for the soul, and the yearning of
Christ for that soul which ever runs after creatures, till the love of
Christ wakens in it a love of its God, which dims and deadens all love
of creatures except through love for Him.  This was the love of St.
Paul, of St. Ignatius, of St. Stanislaus, of St. Francis of Assist, of
St. Clare, of St. Teresa."


  The hid battlements of Eternity:
  Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
  Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again  _Page 56_]

The neologisms and archaic words employed in the poem seem to be a
legitimate and instinctive effort of the poet's inspiration to soar
above the limitations of time and to liberate itself from the transient
accretions of a living, and therefore constantly changing, mode of
speech.  He strove after an enfranchisement of utterance, devoid of
stratifying peculiarities, assignable to no age or epoch, and
understood of all.  A soul-shaking thought, prevalent throughout
Christendom, was felt imaginatively by a highly endowed poet, and, like
impetuous volcanic fires that fling heavenward mighty fragments and
boulders of mountain in their red release, found magnificent expression
in elemental grandeurs of language, shot through with the wild lights
of hidden flames and transcending all pettiness of calculated artifice
and fugitive fashion.

The dominating idea in the "Hound of Heaven" is so familiar, so--one
might say--innate, that it is almost impudent to undertake to explain
it.  Even in the cases of persons to whom the reading of poetry is an
uncultivated and difficult art, there is an instantaneous leap of
recognition as the thought emerges from the cloudy glories of the poem.
Still, modern popular systems of philosophy are so dehumanizing in
their tendencies, and so productive of what may be called secondary and
artificially planted instincts, that it is perhaps not entirely useless
to attempt to elucidate the obvious.

"The heavens," says Hazlitt, "have gone farther off and become
astronomical."  The home-like conception of the universe in mediaeval
times, when dying was like going out of one room into another, and man
entertained a neighborly feeling for the angels, has a tendency to
disappear as science unfolds more and more new infinities of time and
space, new infinities of worlds and forms of life.  The curious notion
has crept in, that man must sink lower into insignificance with every
new discovery of the vastness and huge design of creation.  God would
seem to have over-reached Himself in disclosing His power and majesty,
stunning and overwhelming the intellect and heart with the crushing
weight of the evidences of His Infinity.  We have modern thinkers
regarding Christian notions of the Godhead as impossible to a mind
acquainted with the paralyzing revelations of scientific knowledge.
The late John Fiske used to deride what he called the anthromorphism of
the Christian idea of God, as of a venerable, white-bearded man.  And
these philosophers deem it more reverent to deny any personal
relationship between God and man for the reason that God is too great
to be interested in man, and man too little to be an object of interest.

Before indicating the essential error of this attitude, it is necessary
to state, merely for the sake of historical accuracy, that the
Christian conception of the Godhead, as expressed by St. Thomas
Aquinas, Dante, Lessius, and a host of Christian writers, has never
been approached in its sublime suggestions of Infinite and Eternal
power and glory by any modern philosopher.  In the second and third
Lectures of Cardinal Newman's, "Scope and Nature of University
Education," there is an outline of the Christian teaching of the nature
of God which, in painstaking accuracy of thought and sheer grandeur of
conception, has no counterpart in modern literature.

Let us always remember that telescope and microscope in all the range
of their discoveries have not uncovered the existence of anything
greater than man himself.  The most massive star of the Milky Way is
not so wonderful as the smallest human child.  Moreover man's present
entourage of illimitable space and countless circling suns and planets
cannot be said to have cost an omnipotent God more trouble, so to
speak, than a universe a million times smaller.  The prodigality of the
Creator reveals His endless resources; if the vision of sidereal
abysses and flaming globes intimidates me and makes me cynical about my
unimportance, is it not because I have lost the high consciousness of a
spiritual being and forgotten the unplumbed chasms which separate
matter from mind?


  Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
  Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
  Be dunged with rotten death?  _Page 57_]

In Francis Thompson's Catholic philosophy, which must be partially
understood if the reader is to get at the heart of the "Hound of
Heaven," the tremendous manifestations of God's attributes of power
prepare us to expect equally tremendous manifestations of His
attributes of love.  The more prodigal God is discovered to be in
lavish expenditures of omnipotence in the material universe, the more
alert the soul becomes to look for and to detect overwhelming surprises
of Divine Love.  Hence, to Thompson there was nothing irrational in the
special revelation of God to man, in His Incarnation, His death on the
cross, and His sacramental life in the Church.  The Divine energy of
God's love, as displayed in the supernatural revelation of Himself,
seems to be even vaster and more intense than the Divine energy of
creation displayed in the revelation of nature.  Every new revelation
of God's power and wisdom which science unfolds serves only to restore
a balance in our mind between God's power and God's love.  The more
astronomical the heavens become, the closer they bring God to us.

Another conception of God to be kept in mind, if we are to grasp the
meaning of the "Hound of Heaven," is the omniscient character, the
infinite perfection, of God's knowledge.  God sees each of us as fully
and completely as if there were no one else and nothing else to see
except us.  Practically speaking, God gives each one of us His
undivided attention.  And through this spacious channel of His Divine
and exclusive attention pour the ocean-tides of His love.  The weak
soul is afraid of the terrible excess of Divine Love.  It tries to
elude it; but Love meets it at every cross-road and by-path, down which
it would run and hide itself, and gently turns it back.

Francis Thompson, in an interpretation of "A Narrow Vessel," has left
us in prose a description of human weakness and wilfulness reluctant of
its true bliss.  The following passage is an excellent commentary on
the "Hound of Heaven." "Though God," he says, "asks of the soul but to
love Him what it may, and is ready to give an increased love for a poor
little, the soul feels that this infinite love demands naturally its
whole self, that if it begin to love God it may not stop short of all
it has to yield.  It is troubled, even if it did go a brief way, on the
upward path; it fears and recoils from the whole great surrender, the
constant effort beyond itself which is sensibly laid on it.  It falls
back with relieved contentment on some human love, a love on its own
plane, where somewhat short of total surrender may go to requital,
where no upward effort is needful.  And it ends by giving for the
meanest, the most unsufficing and half-hearted return, that utter
self-surrender and self-effacement which it denied to God.  Even (how
rarely) if the return be such as mortal may render, how empty and
unsatiated it leaves the soul.  One always is less generous to love
than the other."

God walks morning, noon and eve in the garden of the soul, calling it
to a happiness which affrights it.  And the timid and self-seeking soul
strives to hide itself under the stars, under the clouds of heaven,
under human love, under the distractions of work and pleasure and
study, offers itself as a wistful servitor to child and man and nature,
if they will but afford it a refuge from the persistent and gentle
accents of pursuivant Love.  But all things are in league with God, Who
made and rules them.  They cannot conspire against Him.  They betray
the refugee.  He turns in abject surrender, and is astonished to find
the rest and happiness that he quested for so wildly.  The Divine
thwartings which had harassed the soul become a tender mystery of
Infinite Love forcing itself upon an unworthy and unwilling creature.
Someone has said that every life is a romance of Divine Love.  The
"Hound of Heaven" is a version of that romance which smites the soul
into an humble mood of acknowledgment and penitence.



Francis Thompson, born in Preston in 1859, spent the greater part of
his mature life in London where he died in 1907.  He was educated at
Ushaw College near Durham, and afterwards went to Owens College,
Manchester, to qualify as a doctor.

But his gift as prescriber and healer lay elsewhere than in the
consulting-room.  He walked to London in search of a living, finding,
indeed, a prolonged near approach to death in its streets; until at
length his literary powers were discovered by himself and by others,
and he began, in his later twenties, an outpouring of verse which
endured for a half-decade of years--his "Poems," his "Sister Songs,"
and his "New Poems."

"The Hound of Heaven" "marked the return of the nineteenth century to
Thomas à Kempis."  The great poetry of it transcended, in itself and in
its influence, all conventions; so that it won the love of a Catholic
Mystic like Coventry Patmore; was included by Dean Beeching in his
"Lyra Sacra" among its older high compeers; and gave new heart to quite
another manner of man, Edward Burne-Jones.

W. M.



When she lit her glimmering tapers . . . . . . . . .   _Frontispiece_

Titanic glooms of chasmed fears

Across the margent of the world I fled

I said to dawn: Be sudden

I knew how the clouds arise

Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!

Yea, faileth now even dream

The hid battlements of Eternity

Whether man's heart or life it be which yields

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside

Thunder-driven, They clanged His chariot

In her wind-walled palace

I shook the pillaring hours

And now my heart is as a broken fount

That Voice is round me like a bursting sea


  I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
  Of my own mind]


  I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
  I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
  I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
        Up vistaed hopes, I sped;
        And shot, precipitated,
  Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
    From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
        But with unhurrying chase,
        And unperturbèd pace,
      Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
        They beat--and a Voice beat
        More instant than the Feet--
      "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."


        I pleaded, out law-wise,
  By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
    Trellised with intertwining charities
  (For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
        Yet was I sore adread
  Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside);
  But, if one little casement parted wide,
    The gust of His approach would clash it to.
    Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
  Across the margent of the world I fled,
    And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
    Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars;
        Fretted to dulcet jars
  And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
  I said to dawn: Be sudden; to eve: Be soon--
    With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over
        From this tremendous Lover!
  Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
    I tempted all His servitors, but to find
  My own betrayal in their constancy,
  In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
    Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
  To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
    Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
        But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
      The long savannahs of the blue;
          Or whether, Thunder-driven,
      They clanged His chariot 'thwart a heaven
  Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet:--
    Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
          Still with unhurrying chase,
          And unperturbèd pace,
  Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
          Came on the following Feet,
          And a Voice above their beat--
  "Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me."


  They clanged His chariot 'thwart a heaven
  Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet]


  I sought no more that after which I strayed
      In face of man or maid;
      But still within the little children's eyes
    Seems something, something that replies,
  _They_ at least are for me, surely for me!
  I turned me to them very wistfully;
  But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
      With dawning answers there,
  Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.

[Illustration: In her wind-walled palace]

  Come then, ye other children,
    With me" (said I) "your delicate fellowship;
    Let me greet you lip to lip,
    Let me twine with you caresses,
    With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses,
    With her in her wind-walled palace,
    Underneath her azured daïs,
    Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
        From a chalice
  Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring."
        So it was done;
  _I_ in their delicate fellowship was one--
  Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
        _I_ knew all the swift importings
        On the wilful face of skies;
        I knew how the clouds arise,
        Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
          All that's born or dies
      Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
  Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine--
        With them joyed and was bereaven.
        I was heavy with the even,
    When she lit her glimmering tapers
      Round the day's dead sanctities.
      I laughed in the morning's eyes.
  I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
      Heaven and I wept together,
  And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
  Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
          I laid my own to beat,
          And share commingling heat;
  But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
  In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
  For ah! we know not what each other says,
        These things and I; in sound _I_ speak--
  _Their_ sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
  Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake by drouth;
        Let her, if she would owe me,
  Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
        The breasts o' her tenderness:
  Never did any milk of hers once bless
          My thirsting mouth.
        Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
          With unperturbèd pace,
        Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
          And past those noisèd Feet
          A Voice comes yet more fleet--
        "Lo! naught contents thee, who content'st not Me."



  I shook the pillaring hours
  And pulled my life upon me]

  Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
  My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
          And smitten me to my knee;
          I am defenceless utterly.
          I slept, methinks, and woke,
  And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
  In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
          I shook the pillaring hours
  And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
  I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years--
  My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
  My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
  Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
      Yea, faileth now even dream
  The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
  Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
  I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
  Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
  For earth, with heavy griefs so overplussed.
        Ah! is Thy love indeed
  A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
  Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
          Ah! must--
          Designer infinite!--
  Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
  My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
  And now my heart is as a broken fount,
  Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
          From the dank thoughts that shiver
  Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
          Such is; what is to be?
  The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
  I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
  Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
  From the hid battlements of Eternity:
  Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
  Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again;
          But not ere Him who summoneth
          I first have seen, enwound
  And now my heart is as a broken fount,
  Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
  From the dank thoughts that shiver
  With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
  His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
  Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
          Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
          Be dunged with rotten death?


  And now my heart is as a broken fount,
  Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
  From the dank thoughts that shiver]


  Now of that long pursuit
  Comes on at hand the bruit;
  That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
          "And is thy earth so marred,
          Shattered in shard on shard?
    Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
        Strange, piteous, futile thing,
  Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
  Seeing none but I makes much of naught" (He said),
  "And human love needs human meriting:
        How hast thou merited--
  Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
        Alack, thou knowest not
  How little worthy of any love thou art!
  Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
        Save Me, save only Me?
  All which I took from thee I did but take,
        Not for thy harms,
  But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
        All which thy child's mistake
  Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
        Rise, clasp My hand, and come."
          Halts by me that footfall:
          Is my gloom, after all,
    Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
          "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
          I am He Whom thou seekest!
  Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."

[Illustration: That Voice is round me like a bursting sea]


[Illustration: Back end papers]

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