Last week I wrote about the story of the Prodigal Son, and this week’s poem could just as well be about that story. Francis Thompson’s haunting “The Hound of Heaven” captures the feelings of one who, overwhelmed by guilt or a sense of unworthiness, attempts to shut God out of his/her life. It’s a sentiment that George Herbert explores in many of his poems and, like Herbert’s sinners, the speaker in Thompson’s poem ultimately surrenders to God’s love.
The last line, “Thou dravest [drivest] love from thee, who dravest Me,” reminds us that God is Love and only by opening ourselves up to love will we find love. In the poem, God acknowledges our fears of being small and unworthy and urges us to step beyond them.
I quote from the opening and from the ending of the poem. You can find it in its entirety here:
The Hound of Heaven
By Francis Thompson
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.
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 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, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with interwining 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.
And the final stanza:
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me hke 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 make 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.”