The Hound of Heaven
by Francis Thompson (1859 -1907) England
This poem has been the inspiration for many artists and writers and spiritual seekers since it was published 1893. It is often associated with the Catholic message but it has a wider audience. Indeed it is a carrier of the universal message that we are not what we take ourselves to be. What is interesting in this poem is that instead of presenting the problem as one of us seeking God or Self or liberation, Thompson turns the tables on us in saying that God or Self is seeking us and we are running away from IT. It is not a poem that reveals itself in one reading but invites us to a more in depth study the message, the story of our seeking happiness, and the many ways in which we delude ourselves along the way.
3 panels by Gammel
An American painter R.H. I Gammell painted 23 panel inspired by this poem. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._H._Ives_Gammell
The feature image for this article is Panel 1 of Gammells Hound of Heaven series.
Here is a link to Richard Burton, reading it:
The Hound of Heaven
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 intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
Yet was I sore adread 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,
And troubled the gold gateway of the stars
, Smiting for shelter on their clanged 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 skiey blossom 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 unperturbed 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 after that which I strayed In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s 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 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 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,
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 unperturbed 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.
‘ Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou has 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.
Yea, 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 griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed A weed, albeit an amarinthine 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-glimpsed 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 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!
‘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.
Below is a link to a site I came across which has a paraphrasing of the poem, in modern English.
My Paraphrase of The Hound of Heaven I ran away from God.
He followed me peacefully and swiftly, yet unhurriedly.
He told me, “all people who betray you, betray Me.” (John 15:18-19
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.) I kept trying to get away from God.
Though I knew of His love for me,
I feared that if I had Him,
I would have to give up everything else.
I kept running across the ends of the universe.
I wanted to hide from this tremendous Lover.
I even tried to hide in the sky.
I tried to tempt the God’s servants to help me hide from God, but they were on His side.
I realized my own sinfulness next to their faithfulness.
So I tried to find another fast way to flee from God.
I clung to the wind.
But no matter where the wind took me, God continued to follow, peacefully and swiftly, yet unhurriedly.
He said, “Nothing shelters you that will not shelter me.”
I stopped trying to flee from God through adults, and began through children, because they will innocently and naively help me.
It just as they started to help, their guardian angels took them away from me.
So then I turned to the beauty of nature to find my happiness.
I enjoyed sharing my experiences of happiness and sadness and all the other emotions with nature.
But even this experience of nature could not ease my human pain.
I cried to Heaven but there was a language barrier.
I speak through sound. Heaven speaks through silence.
Nature cannot satisfy my thirst.
I am thirsty still. God continues to follow, peacefully and swiftly, yet unhurriedly.
He said, “Nothing contents you that doesn’t content me.”
I have nothing left that will allow me to exist without God in my life, and I have been driven to my knees. I am at rock bottom. I tried everything.
I wait for the love of God.
Everything else, all other dreams, have failed.
The earth is overloaded with heavy sadness.
God, must you break me down before you can use me for Your glory?
My heart is broken. What is to happen?
Everything is bitter, yet now and then a trumpet sounds.
The trumpet sounds from Heaven, but not before the death and resurrection of Christ.
God, must Your glory come from this rotten death? Now from this long pursuit of happiness comes God.
God says, “You keep running from Me. This is strange.
Why do you run from Me? I love you.
You didn’t do anything to merit My love.
Human love is different from My love.
For human love you need merit.
I love you no matter what you do because I Am Love.
I have prepared a place for you with all of the desires of your heart.
I am what you have been seeking this whole time. Psalm 37:4
Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire. John 14: 1-4
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.
Psalm 139: 1-15 O LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach.
Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too.
If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light”
Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
“My heart is restless until it rests in You.” -St. Augustine