The poem “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson is one of the most loved and powerful poems of English literature. Noted for the vivid imagery in his poems, Thompson shares his own personal story in these poetic verses. Thompson (1859-1907) lived a difficult life before he found hope in God. He had studied to be a priest, but never finished. He studied medicine, but flunked out of medical school. He joined the military, but was let go after one day. Eventually he became an opium addict in London. But he couldn’t get away from God’s persistent love for him. In the midst of his despair, someone who recognized his poetic gifts befriended and helped him write his experiences in verse.

The Hound of Heaven

By Francis Thompson                                                                   

I FLED Him[1] 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[2] hopes I sped;

    And shot precipitated

Adown titanic glooms of chasm’d[3] fears

    From those strong feet that followed, followed after

    But with unhurrying chase

    And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate[4] speed, majestic instancy[5],

    They beat, and a Voice beat,

    More instant than the feet:

“All things betray thee who betrayest Me.”[6]

    I pleaded, outlaw-wise[7],

By many a hearted casement[8], curtained red,

    Trellised with inter-twining charities[9],

(For though I knew His love who followèd,

    Yet was I sore adread,

Lest having Him, I should have nought beside);

But if one little casement parted wide,

The gust of his approach would clash it to[10].

    Fear wist[11] not to evade as Love wist to pursue.

Across the margent[12] of the world I fled,

    And troubled the gold gateways of the stars[13],

    Smiting[14] for shelter on their clangèd bars[15],

    Fretted[16] to dulcet[17] jars

And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon[18].

I said to Dawn: be sudden, to Eve[19]: be soon,

    With thy young skyey blossoms[20] heap me over[21]

    From this tremendous Lover!

Float thy vague veil about me lest He see!

    I tempted all His servitors[22] but to find

My own betrayal in their constancy,

In faith to Him their fickleness to me,

    Their traitorous trueness and their loyal deceit[23]. 

To all swift things for swiftness did I sue[24],

    Clung to the whistling mane of every wind,

    But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,

The long savannahs[25] of the blue,

     Or whether, Thunder-driven,

    They clanged His chariot ‘thwart a’ heaven[26],

Plashy[27] 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[28] shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

I sought no more that after which I strayed

In face of Man or Maid[29].

But still within the little childrens’ eyes

Seems something, something that replies,

They at least are for me, surely for me!

I turned me to them very wistfully[30];

But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair

With dawning answers there,

Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.[31]

“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s[32] — share

With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;

Let me greet you lip to lip,

Let me twine with you caresses[33],

    Wantoning,

With our Lady Mother’s vagrant[34] tresses,

    Banqueting

With her in her wind-walled palace[35],

Underneath her azured dais[36],

Quaffing[37], as your taintless way is,

    From a chalice,

Lucent[38] weeping out of the dayspring.”

    So it was done.

I in their delicate fellowship was one.

Drew the bolt[39] 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[40] wailful or divine

With them joyed and was bereaven.

I was heavy with the even[41],

When she lit her glimmering tapers[42]

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[43] heat;

But not by that, by that was eased my human smart[44].

In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek[45].

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 step-dame, cannot slake my drouth[46].

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.[47]

    Nigh and nigh draws the chase,

    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 nought Me.”

Naked, I wait thy Love’s uplifted stroke!

My harness, piece by piece, Thou hast hewn[48] 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[49].

In the rash lustihead[50] of my young powers,

I shook the pillaring hours[51],

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.

Yeah, 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 grief so overplussed[52].

Ah! Is thy Love indeed

A weed, albeit an amaranthine[53] weed,

Suffering[54] no flowers except its own to mount?

Ah! must —

Designer Infinite —

Ah! Must Thou char the wood ‘ere[55] Thou canst limn[56] 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?[57]

The pulp[58] so bitter, how shall taste the rind?

I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds,

Yet ever and anon[59], a trumpet sounds

From the hid battlements[60] of Eternity.

Those shaken mists a space unsettle,

Then round the half-glimpsèd turrets, slowly wash again.

But not ‘ere him who summoneth[61]

     I first have seen[62], enwound

With glooming robes purpureal[63]; cypress-crowned[64].

His name I know[65], 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?[66]

    Now of that long pursuit,

    Comes at hand the bruit[67];

That Voice is round me like a bursting sea[68]:

    ”And is thy Earth so marred,

    Shattered in shard[69] on shard?

Lo, all things fly[70] thee, for thou fliest Me.

    Strange, piteous, futile thing;

Wherefore should any set thee love apart?

Seeing none but I makes much of naught[71]” (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[72],

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[73]

    Is my gloom, after all,

Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?[74]

    ”Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,

    I am He Whom thou seekest![75]

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”[76]


[1] Thompson used capitalized words when referring to God

[2] ‘Vistaed’ means a long well-imagined view

[3] ‘Chasm’d’ means abysmal or foreboding

[4] ‘Deliberate’ means intentional and constant

[5] ‘Instancy’ means urgency

[6] All the quotes represent the voice of God

[7] As someone on the run

[8] ‘Hearted’ means kind. A ‘casement’ is a window that opens on hinges at the side

[9] ‘Inter-twining charities’ refers to pleasant company

[10] That is, bang the window shut, an allusion to the Spirit of God as the Wind of God

[11] ‘Wist’ means knew: love knew how to pursue better than fear knew how to evade

[12] ‘Margent’ means margin, limit, or boundary

[13] Ships navigated by the stars

[14] ‘Smiting’ means hitting, striking, or demanding

[15] ‘Clanged bars’ refers to when the ‘gold gateways’ were shut, or when he had to stay overnight somewhere as he traveled on the run from God

[16] ‘Fretted’ means intertwined

[17] ‘Dulcet’ means pleasant sounding

[18] ‘Pale ports o’ the moon,’ a port is an opening, but there is also an allusion to the passing of time.

[19] ‘Eve’ or ‘even’ means evening

[20] ‘Skyey blossoms’ probably both clouds and stars

[21] ‘Heap me over”, that is, hide me

[22] ‘Servitors’ means servants. The dawn and evening are, after all, the servants of God

[23] Traitorous and deceitful to Thompson (because he thought they would meet his heart’s desire) and true and loyal to God

[24] ‘Sue’ means seek to persuade

[25] ‘Savannah’ is a treeless plain, here he intends a cloudless blue sky

[26] ‘Thwart a’ heaven’ means “across the heavens” – the line is a reference to thunder

[27] ‘Plashy’ means flashy

[28] ‘Naught’ means nothing

[29] Meaning, “I ceased looking among adults for what I was searching”

[30] ‘Wistfully’ means hopefully, wishfully, thoughtfully

[31] Thompson seems to be expressing the loss of a child by death. In his day child mortality was very common and whether he speaks of his own child or others’ is unclear

[32] Nature’s children is the created realm

[33] That is, inter-twined in embrace, as lovers. His study of earth and the starry heavens was a passionate embrace of knowledge

[34] ‘Vagrant’ means wandering

[35] ‘Wind-walled palace’ refers to out-of-doors

[36] ‘Dais’ is a raised platform for important people to sit, usually royalty. Here it is used to depict ‘Lady Mother’s’ high position, a veiled reference to Mother Nature or, as it were, God. The feminine is used to emphasize the life-giving force of God.

[37] ‘Quaffing’ means drinking heartily

[38] ‘Lucent’ means shiny. ‘Lucent weeping’ refers to the beauty of a bubbling brook with the light of the sun shining off of it.

[39] ‘Drew the bolt’ means opened the lock

[40] ‘Or’ means either here

[41] ‘Even’ here means evening

[42] ‘Lit her glimmering tapers’ means the stars came out. A ‘taper’ is a candle

[43] ‘Commingling’ means to mix or mingle together

[44] ‘Smart’ means pain

[45] ‘Heaven’s grey cheek’ refers to the gray of the dawn.

[46] ‘Slake my drouth’ means satisfy my thirst

[47] The Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God” but scholars draw a distinction between general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation is personal and intimate, the calling of God to the human soul. The study of nature alone will not give the human soul what it longs for.

[48] ‘Hewn’ means to cut away stroke by stroke

[49] An allusion to the brevity of life. As though he fell asleep as a young man and awoke an old man stripped of what he had when he had dosed off.

[50] ‘Rash lustihead’ means “hasty or reckless vitality”

[51] ‘Shook the pillaring hours’ that is, “shook loose from the responsibility of the foundational years of life”

[52] ‘Overplussed’ means overloaded

[53] ‘Amaranthine’ is a flower that does not quickly wilt, everlasting or unfading

[54] ‘Suffering’ means tolerating or allowing

[55] ‘ere’ means before

[56] ‘Limn’ means to paint or, in this case, to portray a painting on it

[57] ‘Such is’ means, “This is reality.”  ‘What is to be’ mean, “What does the future hold?”

[58] ‘Pulp’ means the edible part of fruit

[59] ‘Ever and anon’ means forever and always

[60] “Battlements’ are fortress walls

[61] ‘Him who summoneth’ means death

[62] Meaning that eternity cannot be seen until he sees death first

[63] ‘Purpureal’ means purple

[64] ‘Cypress-crowned’, a cypress is a type of evergreen tree

[65] That is, death

[66] Fields were fertilized, or ‘dunged’ with manure. Thompson questions God, “Whether you harvest a man’s heart (his hopes and dreams) or his life, must there be the stench of death, loss, broken-heartedness, and separation on your harvest fields, like a fertilized field smells with manure?”

[67] ‘Bruit’ means news, rumor, or noise

[68] The imagery of Revelation is used here. The voice of Christ is likened to a crashing seashore, a noise which is one of the loudest in nature, drowning out all others, yet is strangely soothing to our ears.

[69] ‘Shard’ means fragment

[70] ‘Fly’ means to escape or avoid

[71] God made the world out of nothing, and He makes much of nothing through redeeming human lives

[72] ‘Not for thy harms’ means, “Not to harm you”

[73] As though he hears someone approach and then stop near him

[74] The darkness of his life came as the hand of God was extended toward him in love and he ran from it.

[75] The ironic end of the poem: in all of his fleeing from God, and God’s pursuit after him, he discovered that nothing had truly satisfied his heart’s desires except God. 

[76] ‘Dravest’ means to drive away. Thompson’s last line holds his greatest insight, as he recounts a life of pain and loneliness he realizes that it was because he drove away the loving hand of God. To paraphrase, God is saying: “You drove love away from you when you drove Me away.”

  1. zita Eknaian
    September 27th, 2010 at 10:39 | #1

    Where can I find this poem in modern English? I don’t know many words in it. Thank you.

  2. peter
    March 18th, 2011 at 13:25 | #2

    @zita Eknaian

    Zita, Check out this link for modern English translation:

    http://poetry.elcore.net/HoundOfHeavenInRtTGlossed.html

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