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The Hound of Heaven

The shortest Christian Spiritual Classic

In the world of Church History studies there is a saying: "don’t read anything that is not at least 100 years old." This is not meant to downplay anything written within the last 100 years, only to point out that many wonderful Christian books were written in the first 1800 years of Christianity. And of out of the multitude of Christian spiritual classics written before 1900 is one written at the end of that time period and is one of the shortest of the lot: The Hound of Heaven.

This work is a poem written by a Catholic poet who lived in England: Francis Thompson (1859-1907). The first part of his life saw much suffering and anguish. Thompson’s father was a physician and Thompson was schooled to study medicine. He was dissatisfied with this "forced choice" and eventually dropped out. He was reduced to poverty and became homeless for about three years. He earned money by selling matches and newspapers and hailing cabs for strangers. This lifestyle left him chronically sick.

With nothing else to lose, he decided to send some poems to a new Catholic magazine, the "Merry England." The editor of the magazine, Wilfrid Meynell, loved them and wanted to contact the author, but did not know how to get find Thompson. Meynell decided to publish the poems in the "Merry England" in the hope that the author would contact him. After seeing his published poetry, Thompson did contact Meynell, and a successful literary career was launched.

Thompson’s first book of poems, entitled Poems, was published in 1893; "The Hound of Heaven" was included. He saw the publication of two more books of poetry in 1895 and 1897, and then switched to prose and wrote no more poetry. Yet of all his works, it is The Hound of Heaven which Thompson is most remembered for.

The Hound of Heaven has 182 lines and tells the tale of a soul who flees from God. While the word "hound" is never used the poem itself, it clearly portrays God, who has the scent of the lost soul and refuses to be sidetracked. The soul seeks other satisfactions, but God constantly tells how nothing other than Him will satisfy. So, an abridged version of the poem:

“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 . . . [T]hose 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 . . . for, though I knew His love Who followed, yet was I sore adread lest, having Him, I must have naught beside . . . Across the margent of the world I fled . . . I said to dawn: Be sudden; to eve: Be soon—With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over from this tremendous Lover . . . lest He see! . . . Still with unhurrying chase . . . came on the following Feet, and a Voice above their beat—‘Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me." . . . ‘Naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.’ . . . Now of that long pursuit comes on at hand the brute; That Voice is round me like a bursting sea: . . . ‘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. . . . Rise, clasp My hand, and come. . . . I am He whom thou seekest! Thou [drove] love from thee, who [drove away] Me.”

©2005 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved