Winter 2016: The Hound of Heaven
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“The Hound of Heaven” is a 182-line poem written by English poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907). The poem became famous and was the source of much of Thompson's posthumous reputation. According to Wikipedia:

One of the most loved and possibly one of the more difficult Christian poems to read and appreciate, “The Hound of Heaven” has been loved for over a century. It is not, however, a poem that most people cannot read without some background... Do not be dissuaded from reading it.

The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit. -- The Neumann Press Book of Verse, 1988.

Francis Thompson lived from 1859 to 1907 as was an English poet. After attending college, he moved to London to become a writer, but could only find menial work and became addicted to opium, and was a street vagrant for years. A married couple read his poetry and rescued him, publishing his first book Poems in 1893. Thompson lived as an unbalanced invalid, but wrote three books of poetry, with other works and essays, before dying of tuberculosis in 1907. This poem reflects how God chased him throughout his life seeking him as he ran from Him. It beautifully depicts how God refuses to give up on us, whether in good or bad times. May He never stop hounding any of us, until we have yielded all to Him.

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 chasmed 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, outlaw-wise,

By many a hearted casement, curtained red,

Trellised with intertwining charities

(For, though I knew His love Who followed,

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 clanged 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—

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.”

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.

“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share

With me,” said I, “your delicate fellowship;

Let me greet you lip to lip,

Let me twine with you caresses,

Wantoning

With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses’

Banqueting

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 gray 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 my drouth;

Let her, if she would owe me,

Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me

The breasts of 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.”


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 defenseless 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 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 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 mist confounds;

Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds

From the hid battlements of Eternity;

Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then

But not ere him who summoneth

I first have seen, enwound

With blooming 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?


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 rhe 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 the at home;

Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”


Halts by me that footfall;

Is my gloom, after all,

Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?

“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,

I am He Whom thou seekest!

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

From “The Hound of Heaven: A Pictorial Sequence” painted by R.H. Ives Gammell, (1956). Inspired by Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven, (1893).

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