The Hound of Heaven’s Haunted Author

Whether tapping away at McNamara’s Blog or writing a feature for his column, “In Ages Past”, Pat McNamara is always worth reading. His short, engaging historical pieces on — mostly American — Catholics. This week, however, he outdoes himself with a look at Francis Thompson, author of one of the most celebrated, transcendent poems in Catholicism, and a tortured, sensitive soul:

It’s a poem that every Catholic schoolchild knew once upon a time. Eugene O’Neill could recite Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven” from memory, and J.R.R. Tolkien was an admirer of it. G.K. Chesterton considered Thompson one of the great English poets, a “shy volcano.” Although Victorian poetry may be out of fashion today, many still find comfort in Thompson’s image of a loving God relentlessly pursuing the wayward soul:

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 chasmèd 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.’

What many didn’t know was that this poem, hailed as one of the great Catholic poems, was the product of a deeply troubled soul, a man who battled addiction, poverty and depression throughout his adult life.

Read the whole story and get to know the educated and mannerly man who became an addict, lived on the streets, was rescued by a prostitute and simply wore away.

Ponder the odd twists and turns that intersect our free will with God’s, and with his mercy as he pursues us from heaven.

Here is Richard Burton, reciting the poem:

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About Elizabeth Scalia