In Ages Past
Francis Thompson and the Hound of Heaven
Meynell published Thompson's poems. Once he became aware of Thompson's situation, he helped the poet get back on his feet and kick his drug habit. He arranged for Thompson to recuperate at a monastery. Meynell and other friends looked after him for the remaining years of his life. Physically, however, he never quite recovered from life on the street.
During these years he wrote highly regarded poems and essays. He was called "a poet of high thinking, of 'celestial vision,' and of imaginings that found literary images of answering splendour." But all agreed that none surpassed "The Hound of Heaven," which one critic called "one of the great odes of which the English language can boast." The end of the poem describes the wandering soul's final surrender to God's love:
Now of that long pursuit,
Comes 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."
Over time, poor health caught up with Thompson, and on the morning of November 13, 1907, he died of tuberculosis. The restless, gentle soul was finally at peace. Although the story of his addiction was long kept hidden, knowing the full story of Francis Thompson only provides a greater resonance to his work. For ultimately his story is not one of despair but of hope and triumph. Author Michael Daniel notes:
In an age such as ours in which drug addiction and writings emanating from it are symptomatic of nihilism, and ultimately of despair, Thompson's moving poetry, resonating with a Catholic worldview of hope, provides a positive alternative.
Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.