English poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907) isn’t particularly well known today, though the name of at least one of his poems may be familiar to some. He was the tortured soul who wrote The Hound of Heaven, a 182-line work that is both loved by some and considered by others to be too intimidating to read. I think the intimidation factor is due to its length; many people with short attention spans don’t care to wade through a poem of 182 lines.
I won’t reproduce the poem in this post and I hope my brief comments don’t discourage you from reading it here. It is a beautiful and lyrical poem, and a piece that is both heartbreaking (in its candor) and tender (in its depiction of the devoted Hound coming ever nearer). The poem is of course a metaphor, the Hound being a loving God who pursues the Hare. The Hound’s intention, however, is not to devour the Hare but to express divine grace, to bring the Hare to the fold.
As you read the poem, you feel the Hare fleeing, ever fleeing; hiding, wishing (hoping) not to be discovered. There is urgency in this flight! That Thompson succeeds in sustaining that urgency over the length of the poem is the mark of a great poet. Perhaps more telling, Thompson seems to raise a veil where we can peak into his heart and understand some of the genuine desperation in which his poem was rooted.
But make no mistake. Whether you agree with the underlying concept of Thompson’s poem (i.e. God pursuing his creation), the poem doesn’t demand unanimity of belief. One does not have to concur with Thompson’s worldview in order to simply appreciate his poem. The work remains a masterpiece in and of itself. Thompson was (as Chesterton called him) a “great poet.”
You may enjoy this dramatic reading of the poem performed by actor Richard Burton.
Because I’ve long known and loved Thompson’s work, I decided to borrow his metaphor and take a slightly different approach (with fewer lines) via a sonnet. As one who has experienced the divine grace of the Hound of Heaven, I find he is both the pursuer (as Thompson described it) and the master whose lead I follow.