Monday, August 30, 2010

Francis Thompson

English poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907) did not have a promising start. When he attended medical school, he was not interested in his studies, but instead by 1885 moved to London to become a writer. He lived as a vagrant, selling newspapers and matches, and during a bout of ill health became addicted to opium. When he submitted poems to the magazine, Merrie England, its editors, Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, recognized his potential, rescued him from the street and arranged for the publication of his first book, Poems (1893).

Francis Thompson’s most famous poem “The Hound of Heaven” describes God pursuing a reluctant man.

--------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 midst of tears...

Knowing Thompson’s story, the following lines from the middle of the poem ring so true.

--------In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
-------------I shook the pillaring hours
--------And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
-------------I stand amidst the dust o' the mounded years—
--------My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap...

I hope that taste will cause you to seek out the entire poem. Below is a shorter poem, that also expresses the truth of God reaching into our dark world.

In No Strange Land

----The kingdom of God is within you

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places;—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry,—clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Francis Thompson: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: