The Hound of Heaven is a poem written by Francis Thompson who was born in England in 1859. He began training for priesthood and Medicine, but then decided to become a writer. But years of failing health and treatment resulted in an addiction to opium.
“He soon fell into a life of despair and destitution, sleeping on the banks of the Thames with London’s homeless and selling matches just to stay alive. Yet it was during this time, in the midst of all his hunger, deprivation and hopelessness, that he was most able to see the kingdom of Heaven… In 1888, Thompson sent a tattered and torn manuscript to the Catholic periodical Merry England. Its editors, Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, devout Christians themselves, not only recognized Thompson’s poetic ability, they took him under their care and gave him a home. They also arranged for the publication of his first book in 1893, simply titled Poems, which included The Hound of Heaven. The poem was immediately recognized as a masterpiece.
“Thompson spent the years from 1893-1897 nursing his frail health in a monastery in Wales. He died of tuberculosis on November 13, 1907. He was 47… In his eulogy for Thompson, G. K. Chesterton simply concluded: “He was a great poet.” Among those who would be influenced by Thompson was the young J. R. R. Tolkien, who purchased a volume of Thompson’s works in 1913, and later claimed that it had played an important role in his own writing.”
“The name [Hound of Heaven] is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, 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 unhurrying 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.” J.F.X. O’Conor, S.J.
The first and last verses of this well loved Christian poem followed by the YouTube video of a modern adaptation, are given below.
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 midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasme d hears
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbe d pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me…
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’st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy childs mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come.
Halts by me that Footfall.
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest.
Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me.
Father, we thank You for the Holy Spirit, who sought us and found us for You. Thank You for coming after us, rather than leaving us to wander in our ignorance and self-will. All that matters is You. Once we have You, we lack nothing. We give You thanks for the years gone by, and for keeping faith with us even when we were faithless. Help us return to You and seek to please You from now on. In Jesus’ name.