O World Inapprehensible, We Clutch Thee

Ivan Alvazovsky, “Jesus Walks on the Water” (1888)

Spiritual Sunday

Francis Thompson, most famous for his poem “The Hound of Hell,” concludes a moving poem about how “the kingdom of God is within you” with an allusion to Jesus walking upon the water, today’s gospel reading. Thompson observes that we would witness a “many splendored thing” if we would but heed the angel wings beating at our “clay shuttered doors.” God is all around us, just as fish are surrounded by water and the eagle by air. “O world intangible, we touch thee,” he says, “O world unknowable, we know thee.”

If God is here at hand, then Jacob’s ladder could be pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross. If we find ourselves drowning, Jesus walks upon the Thames as well as on the Sea of Galilee (the Lake of Genesareth). Thompson, who suffered from opium addiction, looked for and found God in unexpected places.

In No Strange Land

By Francis Thompson 

“The Kingdom of God is within you.”

O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—

That we ask of the stars in motion

If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—

The drift of pinions, would we hearken,

Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss

Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder

Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry—clinging to Heaven by the hems;

And lo, Christ walking on the water,

Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

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