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The Hound of Heaven

This poem is one of my favorites.  It has two characters.  One is a person fleeing from and resisting God–His love, His leadership, His salvation.  The other is an incessantly persuing God who will not rest until “all the ransomed Church of God be saved to sin no more,” as the old hymn goes.

The author is Francis Thompson, a 19th-century poet who lived a short and sad life filled with many struggles.

I hope you enjoy “The Hound of Heaven” as much as I:

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.         5
      Up vistaed hopes I sped;  
      And shot, precipitated,  
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,  
  From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.  
      But with unhurrying chase,        10
      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.’        15
          I pleaded, outlaw-wise,  
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,  
  Trellised with intertwining charities;  
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,  
        Yet was I sore adread        20
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 margent of the world I fled,        25
  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;        30
  With thy young skiey 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,        35
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,        40
    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.        45
      Still with unhurrying chase,  
      And unperturbèd pace,  
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,  
      Came on the following Feet,  
      And a Voice above their beat—        50
    ‘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 children’s eyes  
  Seems something, something that replies,        55
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.        60
‘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        65
  With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,  
  With her in her wind-walled palace,  
  Underneath her azured daïs,  
  Quaffing, as your taintless way is,        70
    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.        75
  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        80
  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        85
  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;        90
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.        95
For ah! we know not what each other says,  
  These things and I; in sound I speak—  
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.  
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;  
  Let her, if she would owe me,       100
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,       105
    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 not Me!’       110
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,       115
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 amid the dust o’ the mounded years—       120
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.  
  Yea, faileth now even dream  
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;       125
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 griefs so overplussed.  
  Ah! is Thy love indeed       130
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?       135
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.       140
  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;       145
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;       150
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       155
    Comes on 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!       160
  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—       165
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?       170
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:       175
  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,       180
  I am He Whom thou seekest!  
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’  


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