J. F. X. (John Francis Xavier) O'Conor.

A study of Francis Thompson's Hound of heaven online

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Hound of Heaven


REV. J. F. X. qCONOR, S. J.

Professor of Philosophy, St. Francis Xavier College, N. Y.

Editor of Autobiography of St. Ignatius,

of Life of St. Aloysius. etc.


Dedicated with permission to




New York


JosEi'H F. Havselman, S.J.

rrovincial, Maryland-New York

Nllyil ©betat.

Remigius Lafojpt, S.T.L.



John * Car din**. Farley

Archbishop of New York

^ew York, Mily 20th. 1912

Printea, July 20, 191S 300 copies

■R-enripted, AAigKst, ^ 1913. .'. 1,000 copies

Rjepri.-ited, Sep^emb^r,- lOlli 1,000 copies

Reprinted, December, 1912 .... .2,000 copies

J. F. X. O'CoNOR, 1912.





By Rev. J. F. X. O'Conor, SJ.

This great poem, strange to say, is comparatively little
known. It is the sweetest, deepest, strongest song ever
written in the English tongue.

Among some of the great odes are ''Alexander's
Feast," Dryden, ''Ode on the Nativity," Milton, "Intima-
tions of Immortality," Wordsworth. To say Thompson's
poem is one of the great odes is to place it unranked
among them. In my judgment it is greater.

I do not hesitate to say with the Bookman that "the
Hound of Heaven seems to us, on the whole, the most
wonderful lyric in the language. It fingers all the stops
of the spirit . . . hut under all, the still sad music
of humanity," and with the Times, that "people will still
be learning it by heart two hundred years hence, for it
has about it the unique thing that makes for immortality.
It is the return of the nineteenth century to Thomas a

With the Spectator, I ask, "is there any religious poem
carrying so much of the passion of penitence — an ode in



the manner of Crashaw, and in the comparison, it more
than holds its own."

With Coventry Patmore I marvel at the "profound
thoughts and far-fetched splendor of imagery, qualities
which ought to place him in the permanent ranks of
fame," while even Burne-Jones cries out ''Since Gabriel's
Blessed Damosel no mystical words have so touched me
as the Hound of Heaven."

And may we not add the words of G. K. Chesterton,
"with Francis Thompson we lose the greatest poetic
energy since Browning. In his poetry as in the
poetry of the universe, you can work infinitely out and
out, but yet infinitely in and in. These two infinities are
the mark of a great poet, and he was a great poet."

"The great poetry of it (The Hound of Heaven) tran-
scended in itself and in its influence all conventions,"
says Wilfrid Meynell, "so that it won the love of a Catholic
Mystic like Coventry Patmore ; was included by Canon
Beeching in his Lyra Sacra among its older high com-
peers; and gave new heart to quite another manner of
man, Edward Burne-Jones."

It would be difficult to find another poem in the lan-
guage that gives such food for thought, so satisfying, so
new, that can be read and reread, and always with a
relish and a discovery of a new application, or the glim-
mer of an unseen light. In many poems, one reading
suffices, and the mind is sated, for the whole depth is
plummeted and all is revealed in a single view. It is not
so in this poem. There is a depth that can be sounded,
and deeper depths are still there. The vision takes in the
view, but other details arise that charm, or surprise, or
startle, or evoke admiration at the spiritual insight into
the workings of the soul. It gives great and wide
range of thought within a small compass, and a deep


knowledge of the human soul, of the meanings of life, of
the soul's relation to God and of other beings not God,
and of the hold of God's love upon the soul in spite of its
fleeing from Him to the creatures of His hand.

It is happiness the human soul is ever yearning for.
It never ceases its quest for happiness. Night and day,
year after year, it is grasping after happiness. The weary
days of labor are borne to gain the wealth with which
_„^^it thinks it may buy happiness. The days of suffering
'>^«and pain are spent in watching and waiting for the agony
to pass, that happiness may come. It looks for it in every
creature, in the earth, in the sea, in the air. The soul
asks all these things — wherein is your happiness — and
the answer of earth, air, sea is "He made us." '*We are
for Him, for His glory." So the soul is looking for
happiness, and in all these things it will not find happi-
ness. It will find happiness only in God. And yet
instead of seeking it in God, it turns away from Him
and seeks it in the creature, something that is not God.
And God is ever seeking that soul which is running away
from Him. Wherever it runs, the sound of those feet,
following ever after, is heard, and a voice, stronger than
the beat —

But with unhurrying chase.

And imperturbed pace.

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy

They beat — and a Voice beats

More instant than the feet,

"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

And this thought of the creature fleeing from God, and
ever pursued by His love, is most beautifully expressed
in the poem of Francis Thompson, the great Catholic poet.
He seems to sing in verse, the thought of St. Ignatius in


the spiritual exercises, — the thought of St. Paul in the
tender, insistent love of Christ for the soul, and the
yearning of Christ for the love of that soul which ever
runs after creatures, till the love of Christ awakens in
it a love of its God, which dims and deadens all love of
creatures except through love for Him. This was the
love of St. Paul, of St. Ignatius, of St. Stanislaus, of St.
Francis of Assisi, of St. Clare, of St. Theresa.


The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so
bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract at once,
rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this
strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood.
As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its
running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhur-
rying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the
fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or
in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself,
Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever
after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to
Him alone in that never ending pursuit


r^rancis Tliuinpson was born at Preston in 1859, the
son of a physician. After seven years at Ushaw, he went
to Queens College to qualify for his father's profession.
He came to London ill and in great poverty, in reality
starving, and was saved by the act of one whom he has
immortalized :

"She passed — O brave, sad, lovingest, tender thing,
And of her own scant pittance did she give

That I might eat and live:
Then fled, a sw^ift and trackless fugitive."

He died in the hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth, in
St. John's Wood, at the age of forty-eight, on November
13, 1907. His works are: Poems, Sister Songs, New
Poems, Selected Poems, The Hound of Heaven.

In prose he has written "Shelly," Health and Holiness,
and "The Life of St. Ignatius Loyola." The last named
is edited, with notes, by J. H. Pollen, S.J.

"History will certainly be busy with this remarkable
man's life," writes Alice Meynell, "as well as with his
work; and this record will serve in the future, being at
any rate, strictly true. As to the fate of his poetry in
the judgment of his country, I have no misgivings.
For no reactions of taste, no vicissitude of language, no
change in the prevalent fashions of the art, no altering
sense of the music of verse, can lessen the height or
diminish the greatness of this poet's thought, or undo
his experience, or unlive the life of this elect soul, or
efface its passion. There is a call to our time from the
noble seventeenth century; and this purely English poet
cried "Adsum" to the resounding summons:
Come, and come strong
To the conspiracy of our spacious song.

The Hound of Heaven

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."

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,

Trellised with interwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,

Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide.
The gust of His approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.


Across the margcnt of the world I fled,

And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to dawn : Be sudden ; to eve : Be soon—
With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover !
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see !

I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy.
In faith to Him their fickleness to me.

Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind^
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;

Or whether. Thunder-driven,
They clanged His chariot 'thwart a heaven,

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Online LibraryJ. F. X. (John Francis Xavier) O'ConorA study of Francis Thompson's Hound of heaven → online text (page 1 of 3)