Thompson was running, running. He was running from his father, from his failure as a medical student, from God himself. Thousands have read "The Hound of Heaven" with tears, for it is the story of God's pursuit of all, who, like Thompson, reject Him, and try to flee from Him.
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...
The poet knew that: "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me." But still he ran--into the slums of London, into starvation, dirt, drug addiction and disease. But why?
...For, though I knew His love Who follow'd,
Yet I was sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside...
Thompson need never have starved. In 1859, he was born into a well-to-do Roman Catholic home. But his parents wanted him to become a physician, a career he detested. He failed his exams three times and then fled to London.
He failed every occupation he tried. Although his father sent a little money to him in care of a library, he was refused admission because he was so shabby. When he collapsed in the street, a prostitute rescued him. Some poems he scribbled on sugar paper were printed by Wilfred Meynell who finally rescued Thompson. Under the care of a Franciscan community, Thompson escaped his drug addiction, but his health was permanently injured.
The author of what has been called "the greatest ode in the English language" died on this day, November 13, 1907. Had the "Hound of Heaven" cornered him for keeps?
- Meynell, Everard. Life of Francis Thompson. London: Burns Oates and Washburn, 1926.
- Thompson, Francis. "The Hound of Heaven." in various anthologies.
- "Thompson, Francis." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- Untermeyer, Louis. Lives of the Poets. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.
Last updated April, 2007.