THE HOUND OF HEAVEN
ho was he? A brilliant
addicted poet, a tortured soul, writing of the genius, the
Godstuff, in us all. We can quest God or negate Him. Job,
Jonah, Psalm 139 and Julian share this. The happiness is in
the seeking, the misery in the denial. We are Prodigal Sons
and Daughters of God, awaiting the Wedding Feast of Parables
. . .
fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
And shot, precipitated,
And unperturbed pace,
More instant than the Feet -
But, if one little casement parted wide,
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
said to Dawn: Be sudden - to Eve: Be soon;
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
sought not more after that which I strayed
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
'ome then, ye other children, Nature's - share
With me (said I) 'your delicate fellowship;
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
aked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou has hewn from me,
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I stand amidst the dust o' the mounded years -
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have cracked and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
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.
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippins stagnate, spilt down ever
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-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
His name I know and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
Seeing none but I makes much of naught' (He said),
'And human love needs human meriting:
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
G.K. Chesterton wrote:
hat is the primary point of the work of Francis Thompson; even before its many-coloured pageant of images and words. The awakening of the Domini canes, the Dogs of God, meant that the hunt was up once more; the hunt for the souls of men; and that religion of that realistic sort was anything but dead . . . . In any case, it was an event of history, as much as an event of literature, when personal religion returned suddenly with something of the power of Dante or the Dies Irae, after a century in which such religion had seemed to grow more weak and provincial, and more and more impersonal religions appeared to possess the future. And those who best understand the world know that the world is changed; and that the hunt will continue until the world turns to bay.
The Spanish Chapel fresco, the 'Via Veritatis', in
the Dominicans' Santa Maria Novella, Florence, jokes upon
'Domini cani' 'dogs of the Lord', with sheep dogs guarding
sheep, in this political and religious allegory. Dante had had
his Commedia's allegory speak of a great Hound who
would come and chase away the sins of the Three Beasts,
Leopard, Lion, Wolf, the sins of Lechery, Pride, Avarice, of
Youth, Prime, and Age. I remember
a Native American Chief , named
Leonard Crow Dog, who spoke of his name as 'God Work ', spelled backwards. He
guided his people, the women setting the pace for their Walk
for Survival, to the Capitol and the United Nations to say
nuclear weapons' making is evil. My son, my students, my
Quaker Meeting, fed them for three days, and my son continued on their Walk to New
His Biography from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Poet, b. at Preston, Lancashire, 18 Dec., 1859; d. in London, 13 Nov., 1907. He came from the middle classes, the classes great in imaginative poetry. His father was a provincial doctor; two paternal uncles dabbled in literature; he himself referred his heredity chiefly to his mother, who died in his boyhood. His parents being Catholics, he was educated at Ushaw, the college that had in former years Lingard, Waterton, and Wiseman as pupils. There he was noticeable for love of literature and neglect of games, though as spectator he always cared for cricket, and in later years remembered the players of his day with something like personal love. After seven years he went to Owens College to study medicine. He hated this proposed profession more than he would confess to his father; he evaded rather than rebelled, and finally disappeared. No blame, or attribution of hardships or neglect should attach to his father's memory; every careful father knows his own anxieties. Francis Thompson went to London, and there endured three years of destitution that left him in a state of incipient disease. He was employed as bookselling agent, and at a shoemaker's, but very briefly, and became a wanderer in London streets, earning a few pence by selling matches and calling cabs, often famished, often cold, receiving occasional alms; on one great day finding a sovereign on the footway, he was requested to come no more to a public library because he was too ragged. He was nevertheless able to compose a little -- "Dream-Tryst", written in memory of a child, and "Paganism Old and New", with a few other pieces of verse and prose.
Having seen some numbers of a new Catholic magazine, "Merry England", he sent these poems to the editor, Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, in 1888, giving his address at a post-office. The manuscripts were pigeonholed for a short time, but when Mr. Meynell read them he lost no time in writing to the sender a welcoming letter which was returned from the post-office. The only way then to reach him was to publish the essay and the poem, so that the author might see them and disclose himself. He did see them, and wrote to the editor giving his address at a chemist's shop. Thither Mr. Meynell went, and was told that the poet owed a certain sum for opium, and was to be found hard by, selling matches. Having settled matters between the druggist and his client, Mr. Meynell wrote a pressing invitation to Thompson to call upon him. That day was the last of the poet's destitution. He was never again friendless or without food, clothing, shelter, or fire. The first step was to restore him to better health and to overcome the opium habit. A doctor's care, and some months at Storrington, Sussex, where he lived as a boarder at the Premonstratensian monastery, gave him a new hold upon life. It was there, entirely free temporarily from opium, that he began in earnest to write poetry. "Daisy" and the magnificent "Ode to the Setting Sun" were the first fruits. Mr. Meynell, finding him in better health but suffering from the loneliness of his life, brought him to London and established him near himself. Thenceforward with some changes to country air, he was either an inmate or a constant visitor until his death nineteen years later.
In the years from 1889 to 1896 Thompson wrote the poems contained in the three volumes, "Poems", "Sister Songs", and "New Poems". In "Sister Songs" he celebrated his affection for the two elder of the little daughters of his host and more than brother; "Love in Dian's Lap" was written in honour of Mrs. Meynell, and expressed the great attachment of his life; and in the same book "The Making of Viola" was composed for a younger child. At Mr. Meynell's house Thompson met Mr. Garvin and Coventry Patmore, who soon became his friends, and whose great poetic and spiritual influence was thenceforth pre-eminent in all his writings, and Mrs. Meynell introduced him at Box Hill to George Meredith. Besides these his friendships were few. In the last weeks of his life he received great kindness from Mr. Wilfrid Blunt, in Sussex. During all these years Mr. Meynell encouraged him to practise journalism and to write essays, chiefly as a remedy for occasional melancholy. The essay on Shelley, published twenty years later and immediately famous, was amongst the earliest of these writings; "The Life of St. Ignatius" and "Health and Holiness" were produced subsequently.
Did Francis Thompson, unanimously hailed on
the morrow of his death as a great poet, receive no full
recognition during life? It was not altogether absent.
Patmore, Traill, Mr. Garvin, and Mr. William Archer wrote, in
the leading reviews, profoundly admiring studies of his poems.
Public attention was not yet aroused. But that his greatness
received no stinted praise, then and since, may be seen in a
few citations following. Mr. Meynell, who perceived the
quality of his genius when no other was aware of it, has
written of him as "a poet of high thinking, of `celestial
vision', and of imaginings that found literary images of
answering splendour"; Mr. Chesterton acclaimed him as "a great
poet", Mr. Fraill as "a poet of the first order"; Mr. William
Archer, "It is no minor Caroline simper that he recalls, but
the Jacobean Shakespeare"; Mr. Garvin, "the Hound of Heaven
seems to us the most wonderful lyric in our language";
Burne-Jones, "Since Gabriel's [Rossetti's] `Blessed Damozel'
no mystical words have so touched me"; George Meredith, "A
true poet, one of a small band"; Coventry Patmore, "the `Hound
of Heaven' is one of the very few great odes of which the
language can boast". Of the essays on Shelley (Dublin Review)
a journalist wrote truly, "London is ringing with it". Francis
Thompson died, after receiving all the sacraments, in the
excellent care of the Sisters of St. John and St. Elizabeth,
In my now-lost
convent library at Holmhurst St Mary
we had all the published writings of Francis Thompson and
Alice Meynell as Alice Meynell was a friend of our Mother
Foundress Agnes Mason, and we often heard lectures given at
the school on Alice Meynell's poetry.
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