The Hound of Heaven
by Francis Thompson (1850-1907)

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 unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat--and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet--
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

(To be continued in the book)







From Catholic Harbor

Father Francis Le Buff brings spiritual insights to this famous Catholic classic poem, "The Hound of Heaven", by Francis Thompson. Line by line, even word by word, in some instances, he reflects in his notes on the poem's spiritual dimensions through Holy Scripture, Catholic teaching, and the saints whose public lives are testament to God's relentless love to retrieve the obdurate sinner.

This poem is addressed to each of us as we journey through life and forget Who it was who paid the price for our sins from the Cross. We, too, disregard those pounding feet on every occasion we commit mortal sin and refuse to confess our sins and amend our lives.

Christ will catch up with us, eventually, after that arduous chase and in the end, He stands knocking at the door of our hearts. Be it not that we refuse Him entry. Our salvation depends upon it!





INTRODUCTORY ESSAY

To all who read the history of mankind with unsoiled eyes the one outstanding and outdistancing fact is the insistent love of God. This love was first shown in the building of this world-home for man, so beautiful and so plural in its appeal to every sense of its rational lord. Man was to enjoy it without labor, reaping where he had not sown. This was God's first manifestation of love, yet man's truancy came speedily. Adam and Eve threw away God's love for them that they might hearken to a false promise of a share in self-sufficing knowledge. Forsaken and spurned by them, God would not have it so. Man, as any other foolish, petulant child, must be saved from his own folly. Man would make away from God, and God determined to pursue man and bring him back. This pursuit of the human race by God is described by St. John Chrysostom (Homily 5 on the Epistle to the Hebrews ii, 14-16):

"Paul wishing to show the great kindness of God towards man, and the Love which He had for the human race, after saying: 'Forasmuch then as the children were partakers of blood and flesh, He also Himself likewise took part of the same' (ii, 14), follows up the subject in this passage. For do not regard lightly what is spoken, nor think this merely a slight matter, His taking on Him our flesh. He granted not this to Angels; 'For verily He taketh not hold of Angels, but of the seed of Abraham.' What is it that he saith? He took not on Him an Angel's nature, but man's. But what is 'He taketh hold of? He did not (he means) grasp that nature, which belongs to Angels, but ours. But why did he not say, 'He took on Him,' but used this expression, 'He taketh hold of? It is derived from the figure of persons pursuing those who turn away from them, and doing everything to overtake them as they flee, and to take hold of them as they are bounding away. For when human nature was fleeing from Him, and fleeing far away (for we were far off--Ephesians ii, 13), He pursued after and overtook us. He showed that He has done this only out of kindness and love and tender care."

This pursuit was long, and man had found his way down to the utter depths of the most degrading paganism, and seemed almost successful in his flight from God. This, St. Paul places before our eyes in words that picture with unrivalled force those godless men: "So that they are inexcusable, because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified Him as God, or given thanks, but became vain in their thoughts and their foolish heart was darkened. For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness to dishonor their own bodies among themselves, who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections . . . and as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient" (Rom. i, 20-28). It was, then, when man had all but become a beast, ''when the fulness of the time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians iv, 4-5), ''and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us . . . and of His fulness we all have received and grace for grace" (St. John i, 14, 16). Hope was relighted in the human heart and out of the sodden ashes of paganism arose the serried ranks of martyrs and virgins and holy witnesses to the love and kindliness of God to fallen, fleeing man.

This racial pursuit of God is again, in a very special way, manifested in the history of the Jews, the chosen people of God under the older dispensation. Having selected them from out the nations of the world at the time He called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, God further showed His loving care, for it was He "who smote Egypt with their first born . . . who brought out Israel from among them . . . with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm . . . and slew strong kings . . . and He gave their land for an inheritance" (Psalm cxxxv, 10-21). But the people would not have God alone for "they made also a calf in Horeb and they adored the graven thing" (Psalm cv, 19). Yet not for that did God abandon Israel to his witlessness. "As an eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them, He spread His wings, and hath taken him and carried him on His shoulders. The Lord alone was his leader and there was no strange god with him. He set him upon high land that he might eat the fruits of the fields, that he might suck honey out of the rock and oil out of the hardest stone, butter of the herd and milk of the sheep with the fat of the lambs, and of the rams of the breed of Basan, and goats with the marrow of wheat, and might drink the purest blood of the grape" (Deuteronomy xxxii, 11-14). Surely Israel was a petted child yet with wonted petulancy, he balked his Father's plans for "the beloved grew fat and kicked: he grew fat and thick and gross, he forsook God who made him and departed from God his Saviour. They provoked Him by strange gods and stirred Him up to anger with their abominations" (Deuteronomy xxxii, 15-16). This, too, was their continued way of waywardness until the words of aging Josue came true:

"But if you will embrace the errors of these nations that dwell among you and make marriages with them and join friendships; know ye for a certainty that the Lord your God will not destroy them before your face, but they shall be a pit and a snare in your way, and a stumbling-block at your side, and stakes in your eyes, till He take you away and destroy you from off this excellent land, which He hath given you" (Josue xxiii, 12-13). The day did come, when the exiled Jews sobbed out in their sorrow (Psalm cxxxvi, 1-4):


"Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept,
When we remembered Sion.
On the willows in the midst thereof
We hung up our instruments;
For there they that led us into captivity, required of us
The words of songs;
And they that carried us away, said:
'Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Sion'
How shall we sing the song of the Lord
In a land that is strange?"


Again and again they were won back to God's friendship but again and yet again went aside after other loves and the whole history of that strange, stiff-necked folk is one of the persistency of God's love, which would not brook refusal. Not even when the Master of the vineyard sent His only Son to them, would they give Him their undivided hearts, for that same Son was forced to cry (St. Matthew xxiii, 37): "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not! But despite it all, on Good Friday morning they renounced their allegiance to God, who for generations had been their king; for, hurling back Pilate's taunt, the chief priests answered: "We have no king but Caesar'' (St. John xix, 15). After this rejection would God continue the pursuit? Did infinite Goodness find yet more patience with this ungrateful child? Yes, even after they had murdered their Messiah, "the Hope of Israel," "The Desire of the everlasting hills," for twelve long years the Apostles labored unitedly in Jerusalem to win this faithless folk back to God. Nor did the pursuit end there; for we know that God's love will pursue them until the great day of reckoning, before which the "remnant of the house of Israel" is to be saved.

This pursuit of the whole mankind and of the Jewish folk in particular is but a larger manifestation of God's way with each individual soul. "Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul; and the other things on the face of the earth were created for man's sake, and in order to aid him in the prosecution of the end for which he was created" (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius). Hence the command: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength" (Deuteronomy vi, 4-5), for ''I am the Lord thy God. . . . Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. . . . Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous (Exodus xx, 2-5). But each soul is wont to be rebellious and deems it hard to find in God its all of love and in subjection to Him its highest freedom. "A vain man is lifted up into pride and thinketh himself born free like a wild ass's colt" (Job xi, 12). Mostly our rebellion is but the ignorant querulousness of a peevish child, simply a blind groping of the human heart among created things after that "unlimited good" which alone will satisfy it adequately. Sometimes, however, there is a deal of conviction within us that it is hard for us to kick against the goad, for we realize, to our own increasing discomfiture, that by not yielding we are hurting our own real good. Rarely is our rebellion an open rejection of God's authority. Yet there are men that are such rebels, and of each of them it can truly be said: ''His pride and his arrogancy and his indignation is more than his strength" (Isaias xvi, 6), for this is the kind of pride which ultimately refuses to be conquered by God and leads direct to eternal wreckage of all that is truly noble in man.

It is this endeavor of the soul to make away from God and God's pursuit that forms the theme of this poem. Whether this poem is autobiographical or not, seems largely a superfluous academic question. Undoubtedly it is, at least in broad outlines, but it seems to add little inward worth to the interpretation to know that this line tallies with a certain incident in Thompson's life and that line with another. This "specialist" treatment makes little for the general appeal. What is of interest and what secures the widest appeal for the poem is that it is autobiographical of "a" soul, in aspects common to it and all mankind, and therefore autobiographical of every soul, for it is regrettably true that every soul of every child of Adam, with the single and signal exception of Mary, the Mother of God, has fought with varying intensity this fight against its ''Tremendous Lover." We have all "fled Him, down the nights and down the days" and the poem smites on our souls as did the handwriting on Balthasar's wall. As we read and ponder, there resound within our hearts the accusing words of the prophet Nathan to King David: ''Thou art the man." Whether anthologists refuse to class this poem as a "great poem" or not, it is more widely read and will be more widely read than many that measure up to an arbitrary yardstick. Against its poignant throbbings we lay our own hearts "to beat and share commingling heat"; and it is quite safe to say that many a prayer has been breathed and many a heart moved to take at least initial steps to end its flight from God, as line after line awakened memories that burned and seared the soul unto its own healing.

Like the Psalms of David, though inevitably with far less authority and consequent appeal, it reads each human heart for its own self and makes plain to it the meaning of those ceaseless cravings which, if misconstrued, torture our hearts as they pilgrimage to Father's home. Thompson would tell us that all yearnings of the soul can be met by God alone and that it is the sheerest folly to try to ease that fundamental search for love, coextensive with our being, save in the way that God will have it. God wants our love; and God will have it, and have it in the way He Himself desires--or else the soul-hunger will never be eased. With some this pursuit of God is swift and decisive; and so a Magdalene becomes at once a woman of saintliest ways, a Saul stands forth as the world grasping Paul, to whom ''to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians i, 21), a Spanish cavalier is hurled by a cannon-ball into the saintliness of Ignatius.

With others God's task is harder, the pursuit is longer and it is only when God has time and time again bruised their hearts and torn their souls wide asunder and plucked there out each object that was loved, that they yield to Him and in that yielding find surcease of pain and plenitude of sanctifying love and that peace which the world cannot give and is equally impotent to take away, ''the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding" (Philippians iv, 7). Thompson is not alone in his endeavor to show the futility of trying to escape from God. Holy Scripture, with all the force of God's own authority, frequently insists on this thought. The whole idea is summed up strikingly in our Lord's simple metaphor of the Good Shepherd: "I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep" (St. John x, ii), for ''if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after that which was lost, until he find it?" (St. Luke XV, 4). Elsewhere in Holy Scripture we find similar thoughts. The Royal Psalmist (Psalm cxxxviii, 7-12) speaks from the side of God's omnipresence and His conserving love, while Thompson presents God's pursuit after a fleeing, erring soul that He wills to bring back to His love. The Psalmist view is one of repose, Thompson's one of intensest activity:


''Whither shall I go from Thy spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from Thy face?
If I ascend into heaven, Thou art there;
If I descend into hell, Thou art present.
If I take my wings early in the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there also shall Thy hand lead me
And Thy right hand shall hold me.
And I said: Perhaps darkness shall cover me.
And night shall be my light in my pleasures.
But darkness shall not be dark to Thee,
And night shall be light as the day;
The darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to Thee."


Again holy Job is answered by Sophar the Naamathite (Job xi, 7-10):

"Peradventure thou wilt comprehend the steps of God,
And wilt find out the Almighty perfectly?
He is higher than heaven, and what wilt thou do?
He is deeper than hell and how wilt thou know?
The measure of Him is longer than the earth
And broader than the sea.
If He shall overturn all things, or shall press them together,
Who shall contradict Him?"


In both citations the holy writers take a static view of God's relation to the soul, while Thompson's entire concept is dynamic. The whole story of Saul, unhorsed on the road to Damascus, approximates more nearly the present theme. "And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him, and falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou Me? Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And He: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad. And he trembling and astonished said: Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts ix, 3-6). Saul had kicked against the goad by gazing with blinded eyes on the miracles of the early Church and the wondrous sanctity of her first-born children and by turning a deaf ear to Stephen's inspired words. But now One greater than he, has hurled him to the ground and from the earth rises the new man, "Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God" (Romans i, 1); ''from henceforth let no man be troublesome to me: for I bear the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus in my body " (Galatians vi, 17). From that time on Paul was God's man wholly and entirely. Outside the inspired pages of Holy Scripture we find other songs to tell us of this flight. In shorter compass the poet Archbishop, Richard Chenevix Trench, briefly yet strongly pictures the inevitable outcome of such vagrancy:


''If there had anywhere appeared in space
Another place of refuge where to flee.
My soul had found a refuge in that place
And not in Thee.

But only when I found in earth and air
And heaven and hell that such could nowhere be.
That I could not flee from Thee anywhere
I fled to Thee."


Again with lesser note Father Tabb has sung in one of his famous quatrains, "The Wanderer":


"For one astray, behold
        The Master, leaves the ninety and the nine.
Nor rest till, love-controlled.
        The Discord moves in Harmony divine.


Greater than either of these is the strong passage in ''Idylls of the King," where, in ''The Holy Grail," Sir Percivale tells the monk Ambrosius of his quest. The parting tournament has been held and Percivale had shown unwonted strength of arm and then the morrow came and he went forth with his fellow knights to seek the Holy Grail:

"And I was lifted up in heart, and thought
        Of all my late-shown prowess in the lists,
How my strong lance had beaten down the knights,
        So many and famous names; and never yet
Had heaven appeared so blue, nor earth so green.
        For all my blood danced in me, and I knew
That I should light upon the Holy Grail.

Thereafter the dark warning of our King,
        That most of us would follow wandering fires.
Came like a driving gloom across my mind.
        Then every evil word I had spoken once.
And every evil thought I had thought of old.
        And every evil deed I did,
Awoke and cried, 'This Quest is not for thee.'
        And lifting up mine eyes, I found myself
Alone, and in a land of sand and thorns.
        And I was thirsty even unto death;
And I, too cried, 'This Quest is not for thee.'

And on I rode, and when I thought my thirst
        Would slay me, saw deep lawns, and then a brook.
With one sharp rapid, where the crisping white
        Play'd ever back upon the sloping wave,
And took both ear and eye; and o'er the brook
        Were apple-trees, and apples by the brook
        Fallen, and on the lawns. 'I will rest here,'
I said, 'I am not worthy of the Quest;'
        But even while I drank the brook, and ate
The goodly apples, all these things at once
        Fell into dust, and I was left alone.

And thirsting, in a land of sand and thorns.
        And then behold a woman at a door
Spinning; and fair the house whereby she sat,
        And kind the woman's eyes and innocent,
And all her bearing gracious; and she rose
        Opening her arms to meet me, as who should say,
'Rest here;' but when I touched her, lo! she, too.
        Fell into dust and nothing, and the house
Became no better than a broken shed,
        And in it a dead babe; and also this
Fell into dust, and I was left alone.

And on I rode, and greater was my thirst.
        Then flash'd a yellow gleam across the world.
And where it smote the ploughshare in the field.
        The ploughman left his ploughing, and fell down
Before it; where it glitter'd on her pail.
        The milkmaid left her milking, and fell down
Before it, and I knew not why, but thought
        'The sun is rising,' tho' the sun had risen.
Then was I ware of one that on me moved
        In golden armor with a crown of gold
About a casque all jewels; and his horse
        In golden armor jewell'd everywhere:
And on the splendor came, flashing me blind;
        And seem'd to me the Lord of all the world,
Being so huge. But when I thought he meant
        To crush me, moving on me, lo! he, too,
Open'd his arms to embrace me as he came,
        And up I went and touch'd him, and he, too.
Fell into dust, and I was left alone.
        And wearying in a land of sand and thorns.

And I rode on and found a mighty hill,
        And on the top, a city wall'd: the spires
Prick'd with incredible pinnacles into heaven
        And by the gateway stirr'd a crowd; and these
Cried to me climbing, 'Welcome, Percivale!
        Thou mightiest and thou purest among men!'
And glad was I and clomb, but found at top
        No man, nor any voice. And thence I past
Far thro' a ruinous city, and saw
        That man had once dwelt there; but there I found
Only one man of an exceeding age.
        'Where is that goodly company,' said I,
'That so cried out upon me?' and he had
        Scarce any voice to answer, and yet gasp'd,
'Whence and what art thou? ' and even as he spoke
        Fell into dust, and disappear'd, and I
Was left alone once more, and cried in grief,
        'Lo, if I find the Holy Grail itself
And touch it, it will crumble into dust.'

And thence I dropt into a lowly vale,
        Low as the hill was high, and where the vale
Was lowest, found a chapel, and thereby
        A holy hermit in a hermitage.
To whom I told my phantoms, and he said:
        'O son, thou hast not true humility,
The highest virtue, mother of them all;
        For when the Lord of all things made Himself
Naked of glory for His mortal change,
        "Take thou my robe," she said, "for all is thine,"
And all her form shone forth with sudden light
        So that the angels were amazed, and she
Follow'd him down, and like a flyang star
        Led on the gray-hair'd wisdom of the East;
But her thou hast not known; for what is this
Thou thoughtest of thy prowess and thy sins?
Thou hast not lost thyself to save thyself
As Galahad.'"


Lack of lowliness of mind has caused all things to fade upon his touch and has robbed them of the little power they rightfully had to give some comfort to his soul. Undue love of self works havoc in the soul nor is the Holy Grail seen by Percivale, until Galahad--

"Drew me, with power upon me, till I grew
One with him to believe as he believed."

Organically blending throughout the poem with this dominant idea of God's persistency in " hounding" the soul not to death but to life is the thought that God afflicts man in order to bring him back to Him. This is written large on almost every page of Scripture yet nowhere perhaps more dearly or more poignantly than in the threnody of Jeremias (Lamentations iii, 1-17, 22-23, 31-33):


"I am the man that see my poverty
         By the rod of His indignation.
He hath led me and brought me into darkness,
        And not into light.
Only against me He hath turned and turned again
        His hand all the day.
My skin and my flesh He hath made old,
        He hath broken my bones.
He hath built round about me, and He hath compassed me
        With gall and labor.
He hath set me in dark places
        As those that are dead forever.
He hath built against me round about that I may not get out;
        He hath made my fetters heavy.
Yea, and when I cry and entreat.
        He hath shut out my prayer.
He hath shut up my way with square stones.
        He hath turned my paths upside down.
He is become to me as a bear lying in wait.
        As a lion in secret places.
He hath turned aside my paths and broken me in pieces.
        He hath made me desolate.
He hath bent His bow and set me
        As a mark for His arrows.
He hath shot into my veins
        The daughters of His quiver.
I am made a derision to all my people,
        Their song all the day long.
He hath filled me with bitterness,
        He hath inebriated me with wormwood.
And He hath broken my teeth one by one,
        He hath fed me with ashes.
And my soul is removed far off from peace;
        I have forgotten good things.
The mercies of the Lord, that we are not consumed;
        Because His commiserations have not failed.
They are new every morning;
        Great is Thy faithfulness.
For the Lord will not cast off Forever.
        For if He will cast off. He will also have mercy
According to the multitude of His mercies.
        For He hath not willingly afflicted
Nor cast off the children of men."


There the whole story is told as it ought to be told. Sorrow and pain and disappointment are sent by God for one's good, and when they are recognized as so sent, they lead the soul back to God's welcoming arms. It is a strong grace from God when we can see that all our trials come upon us because He wills it so, that they are all ''shade of His hand outstretched caressingly"; a blessed hour when with true humility we recognize and admit our waywardness and yield--and then hear the welcome: "Rise, clasp my hand and come."


It is this endeavor of the soul to make away from God and God's pursuit that forms the theme of this poem. Whether this poem is autobiographical or not, seems largely a superfluous academic question. Undoubtedly it is, at least in broad outlines, but it seems to add little inward worth to the interpretation to know that this line tallies with a certain incident in Thompson's life and that line with another. This "specialist" treatment makes little for the general appeal. What is of interest and what secures the widest appeal for the poem is that it is autobiographical of "a" soul, in aspects common to it and all mankind, and therefore autobigraphical of every soul, for it is regrettably true that every soul of every child of Adam, with the single and signal exception of Mary, the Mother of God, has fought with varying intensity this fight against its "Tremendous Lover." We have all "fled Him, down the nights and down the days" and the poem smites on our souls as did the handwriting on Balthasar's wall. As we read and ponder, there resound within our hearts the accusing words of the prophet Nathan to King David: "Thou art the man." Whether anthologists refuse to class this poem as a "great poem" or not, it is more widely read and will be more widely read than many that measure up to an arbitrary yardstick. Against its poignant throbbings we lay our own hearts "to beat and share commingling heat"; and it is quite safe to say that many a prayer has been breathed and many a heart moved to take at least initial steps to end its flight from God, as line after line awakened memories that burned and seared the soul unto its own healing.



To Download the Entire Book,
Click on the Link Below.


Download the book, "The Hound of Heaven"


The Hound of Heaven begins on page 19 and ends on page 25. Each section of the poem is identified by a number which corresponds with the notes of Fr. Francis Le Buffe S.J.







Short Biography of Francis Thompson

Francis Thompson was born in England. His father converted to Catholicism through the efforts of Cardinal Manning. Educated at Catholic Usha College, Francis desired to become a priest. Due to poor health, he deferred to his father, a doctor, who encouraged him to study medicine. After six years, he left without ever practicing medicine, and became a poet and writer. His life was filled with health problems and depression which eventually led to dependence on pain killers.

Francis submitted poetry to a Catholic magazine called "Merrie England". The editors saw the value of his work and helped him gain control of his life by sending him to Our Lady of England Priory. Later, he lived as an invalid in Wales and died at the age of 47 years at the hospital of St. John and St. Elizebeth. He was buried in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensai Green. His most famous poem, The Hound of Heaven, describes the pursuit of the human soul by God.


























http://catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com/