Tag Archives: religious

The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson’s work had a deep impact upon G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeline L’Engle, and many others. Some thought him to possess a genius rivaling Milton’s. You can read Chesterton’s essay upon his after his passing here, if the poem below impresses you as much as it did them (and me).

 

The Hound of Heaven
by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

 

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 chasmed 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.”

 

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with inter-twining charities,
(For though I knew His love who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread,
Lest having Him, I should have nought 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 margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd 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,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:

 

Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase
And unperturbèd pace
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat –
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

 

I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of Man or Maid.
But still within the little childrens’ eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.

 

“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s – share
With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
Wantoning,
With our Lady Mother’s vagrant tresses,
Banqueting
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured dais,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice,
Lucent weeping out of the dayspring.”
So it was done.
I in their delicate fellowship was one.
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies,
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies,
I knew how the clouds arise,
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings.
All that’s born or dies,
Rose and drooped with, made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine.
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;

 

Against the red throb of its sunset-heart,
I laid my own to beat
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know what each other says,
These things and I; In sound I speak,
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor step-dame, cannot slake my drouth.
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness;
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
And past those noisèd Feet,
A Voice comes yet more fleet:
“Lo, naught contents thee who content’st nought Me.”

 

Naked, I wait thy Love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness, piece by piece, Thou hast hewn from me
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless, utterly.
I slept methinks, and woke.
And slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours,
And pulled my life upon me. grimed with smears,
I stand amidst the dust o’ the mounded years –
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yeah, faileth now even dream
The dreamer and the lute, the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies in whose blossomy twist,
I swung the Earth, a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding: cords of all too weak account
For earth, with heavy grief so overplussed.
Ah! is thy Love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must –
Designer Infinite –
Ah! must thou char the wood ‘ere thou canst limn with it ?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust.
And now my heart is as a broken fount,

 

Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds,
Yet ever and anon, a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity.
Those shaken mists a space unsettle,
Then round the half-glimpsèd turrets, slowly wash again.
But not ‘ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal; cypress-crowned.
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death ?
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 but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms,
All which thy child’s 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.”

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The World by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

By day she woos me, soft, exceeding fair:
.     But all night as the moon so changeth she;
.     Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy
And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.
By day she woos me to the outer air,
.     Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety:
.     But thro’ the night, a beast she grins at me,
A very monster void of love and prayer.
By day she stands a lie: by night she stands
.     In all the naked horror of the truth
With pushing horns and clawed and clutching hands.
Is this a friend indeed; that I should sell
.     My soul to her, give her my life and youth,
Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell?

Religious poetry by G.K. Chesterton

The Strange Music

Other loves may sink and settle, other loves may loose and slack,
But I wander like a minstrel with a harp upon my back,
Though the harp be on my bosom, though I finger and I fret,
Still, my hope is all before me; for I cannot play it yet.

In your strings is hid a music that no hand hath e’er let fall,
In your soul is sealed a pleasure that you have not known at all;
Pleasure subtle as your spirit, strange and slender as your frame,
Fiercer than the pain that folds you, softer than your sorrow’s name.

Not as mine, my soul’s annointed, not as mine the rude and light
Easy mirth of many faces, swaggering pride of song and fight;
Something stranger, something sweeter, something waiting you afar,
Secret as your stricken senses, magic as your sorrows are.

But on this, God’s harp supernal, stretched but to be stricken once,
Hoary time is a beginner, Life a bungler, Death a dunce.
But I will not fear to match them – no by God, I will not fear,
I will learn you, I will play you and the stars stand still to hear.

The Wise Men

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly … it has hailed and snowed…
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(… We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone…)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

The Kingdom of Heaven

Said the Lord God, “Build a house,
Build it in the gorge of death,
Found it in the throats of hell.
Where the lost sea muttereth,
Fires and whirlwinds, build it well.”
Laboured sternly flame and wind,
But a little, and they cry,
“Lord, we doubt of this Thy will,
We are blind and murmur why,”
And the winds are murmuring still.

Said the Lord God, “Build a house,
Cleave its treasure from the earth,
With the jarring powers of hell
Strive with formless might and mirth,
Tribes and war-men, build it well.”
Then the raw red sons of men
Brake the soil, and lopped the wood,
But a little and they shrill,
“Lord, we cannot view Thy good,”
And the wild men clamour still.

Said the Lord God, “Build a house,
Smoke and iron, spark and steam,
Speak and vote and buy and sell;
Let a new world throb and stream,
Seers and makers, build it well.”
Strove the cunning men and strong,
But a little and they cry,
“Lord, mayhap we are but clay,
And we cannot know the why,”
And the wise men doubt to-day.

Yet though worn and deaf and blind,
Force and savage, king and seer
Labour still, they know not why;
At the dim foundation here,
Knead and plough and think and ply.
Till at last, mayhap, hereon,
Fused of passion and accord,
Love its crown and peace its stay
Rise the city of the Lord
That we darkly build to-day.

A Hymn for the Church Militant

Great God, that bowest sky and star,
Bow down our towering thoughts to thee,
And grant us in a faltering war
The firm feet of humility.

Lord, we that snatch the swords of flame,
Lord, we that cry about Thy car.
We too are weak with pride and shame,
We too are as our foemen are.

Yea, we are mad as they are mad,
Yea, we are blind as they are blind,
Yea, we are very sick and sad
Who bring good news to all mankind.

The dreadful joy Thy Son has sent
Is heavier than any care;
We find, as Cain his punishment,
Our pardon more than we can bear.

Lord, when we cry Thee far and near
And thunder through all lands unknown
The gospel into every ear,
Lord, let us not forget our own.

Cleanse us from ire of creed or class,
The anger of the idle tings;
Sow in our souls, like living grass,
The laughter of all lowly things.

The Beatific Vision

Then Bernard smiled at me, that I should gaze
But I had gazed already; caught the view,
Faced the unfathomable ray of rays
Which to itself and by itself is true.

Then was my vision mightier than man’s speech;
Speech snapt before it like a flying spell;
And memory and all that time can teach
Before that splendid outrage failed and fell.

As when one dreameth and remembereth not
Waking, what were his pleasures or his pains,
With every feature of the dream forgot,
The printed passion of the dream remains:–

Even such am I; within whose thoughts resides
No picture of that sight nor any part
Nor any memory: in whom abides
Only a happiness within the heart,

A secret happiness that soaks the heart
As hills are soaked by slow unsealing snow,
Or secret as that wind without a chart
Whereon did the wild leaves of Sibyl go.

O light uplifted from all mortal knowing,
Send back a little of that glimpse of thee.
That of its glory I may kindle glowing
One tiny spark for all men yet to be.

Redemption, by George Herbert (1593-1633)

Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit to him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’old.

In heaven at his manor I him sought:
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts—
In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, “Your suit is granted,” said, and died.

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

Read Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress and you’ll see that he’s at home among the Cavaliers; read The Coronet and you’ll realize he’s at home among the most religious of poets.

A Dialogue Between the Soul and Body

SOUL.
O, who shall from this dungeon raise
A soul enslaved so many ways?
With bolts of bones, that fettered stands
In feet, and manacled in hands.
Here blinded with an eye, and there
Deaf with the drumming of an ear;
A soul hung up, as ‘twere, in chains
Of nerves, and arteries, and veins;
Tortured, besides each other part,
In a vain head and double heart.

BODY.
O, who shall me deliver whole
From bonds of this tyrannic soul?
What, stretched upright, impales me so
That mine own precipice I go;
And warms and moves this needless frame
(A fever could but do the same)
And wanting where its spite to try,
Has made me live to let me die.
A body that could never rest
Since this ill spirit it possessed.

SOUL.
What magic could me thus confine
Within another’s grief to pine?
Where, whatsoever it complain,
I feel, that cannot feel, the pain;
And all my care itself employs,
That to preserve which me destroys;
Constrained not only to endure
Diseases, but, what’s worse, the cure;
And, ready oft the port to gain,
Am shipwrecked into health again.

BODY.
But physic yet could never reach
The maladies thou me dost teach:
Whom first the cramp of hope does tear,
And then the palsy shakes of fear;
The pestilence of love does heat,
Or hatred’s hidden ulcer eat;
Joy’s cheerful madness does perplex,
Or sorrow’s other madness vex;
Which knowledge forces me to know,
And memory will not forego.
What but a soul could have the wit
To build me up for sin so fit?
So architects do square and hew
Green trees that in the forest grew.

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness. lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our love’s long day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest:
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honor turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

The Coronet

When for the thorns with which I long, too long,
.      With many a piercing wound,
.      My Savior’s head have crowned,
I seek with garlands to address that wrong,
.      Through every garden, every mead,
I gather flowers (my fruits are only flowers),
.      Dismantling all the fragrant towers
That once adorned my shepherdess’s head:
And now, when I have summed up all my store,
.      Thinking (so I myself deceive)
.      So rich a chaplet thence to weave
As never yet the King of Glory wore,
.      Alas! I find the serpent old,
.      That, twining in his speckled breast,
.      About the flowers disguised does fold
.      With wreathes of fame and interest.
Ah, foolish man, that wouldst debase with them,
And mortal glory, heaven’s diadem!
But thou who only couldst the serpent tame,
Either his slippery knots at once untie,
And disentangle all his winding snare,
Or shatter too with him my curious frame,
And let these whither, so that he may die,
Thou set with skill and chosen out with care;
That they, while thou on both their spoils dost tread,
May crown thy feet, that could not crown thy head.