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The Hound of Heaven
A Poem by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Background
Summary
Text of the Poem
Style
Point of View
End Rhyme
Internal Rhyme
Verse Format
Theme
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Biography of Thompson
Index of Study Guides
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
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Type of Work

“The Hound of Heaven” is a poem centering on the pursuit of a sinner by a loving God. Written in a lofty, dignified style that expresses deep feelings, it is classified as an ode. It first appeared in Poems, a collection of Francis Thompson's works published in 1893.

Background

Francis Thompson was a devout Roman Catholic who led a tortured life. After abandoning studies to become a priest and later a physician, he drifted and fell into financial hard times. So poverty-stricken was he in London, where he was pursuing a career as a writer, that he sold matches to earn money and borrowed paper on which to write poems. His troubles increased when he developed neuralgia. To relieve the acute pain of this condition, he began taking laudanum, a concoction of opium and ethanol. He became an addict. 

In "The Hound of Heaven," the speaker runs from God in order to maintain the pleasures of his dissolute life. One can imagine the speaker's real-life counterpart, Thompson, doing the same as he pursued the groggy pleasures of his opium habit. Meanwhile, he contracted tuberculosis. Though he fought his drug habit, he eventually succumbed to TB, dying a month short of his forty-eighth birthday.

Summary

The speaker is running from God, as do many people caught up in the world. But God pursues him. Although aware of God's love for him, the speaker continues to run, believing that submitting to God means giving up worldly pleasures. 

The speaker runs from place to place and even troubles “the gold gateway of the stars” in his effort to escape his pursuer. He pleads with dawn to be brief so that darkness may come to hide him. He asks the evening to cover him. But God still pursues him, saying, “Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

When the speaker sees little children, he thinks they cheer him on. But he finds no haven with them. Instead, he hears the voice of his pursuer:

"Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me!"

His days pass swiftly when he swings “the earth a trinket at my wrist,” but eventually his youth stands “amid the dust o' the mounded years.” The happiness he sought in the things of the world has eluded him.

A trumpet sounds from the battlements of eternity through the confounding mist of time. Then follows a loud voice: “Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!” It asks the speaker whether he has earned the love of another human, then answers, 

Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, only Me?
God explains that what He took from the speaker—the pleasures that led him in the wrong direction—was not intended to hurt him but to help him find his way to the right path. The happiness that you think you lost, God says, is not lost but “stored for thee at home.”

“Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”


The speaker wonders whether the gloom he feels is nothing more than the shade cast by the hand of God reaching out to him. God tells him that the happiness he sought by running away was following him all the time.
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Text 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, and under running laughter.1
..........Up vistaed hopes2 I sped
..........And shot precipitated
Adown3 Titanic glooms of chasmèd4 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."..................................15

..........I pleaded, outlaw-wise,5
By many a hearted casement, curtained red
...Trellised with inter-twining charities;6
(For though I knew His love Who followèd,
..........Yet was I sore adread,
Lest having Him, I should have naught beside);7
But if one little casement parted wide,
...The gust of His approach would clash it to:
Fear wist not8 to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent9 of the world I fled,
...And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
...Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars,
..........Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.10
I said to dawn: Be sudden—to eve:11 Be soon;...............................30
...With thy young skiey12 blossoms heap me over
..........From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil13 about me lest He see!
...I tempted all His servitors14 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;15
...Clung to the whistling mane of every wind,
.......But whether they16 swept, smoothly fleet,
...The long savannahs of the blue,17
..........Or whether, Thunder-driven,
.......They clanged His chariot 'thwart18 a heaven,
Plashy19 with flying lightnings round the spurn20 of their feet:—
...Fear wist not to evade as love wist to pursue..............................45
..........Still with unhurrying chase
..........And unperturbèd 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 that after 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...............................60
"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's21 vagrant tresses,
.......... Banqueting
..........With her in her wind-walled palace,
..........Underneath her azured daïs,22
..........Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
.......... From a chalice, 
Lucent-weeping23 out of the dayspring."24
.......... So it was done.
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of nature's secrecies,25...........................................75
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, or Divine26
..........With them joyed and was bereaven.27
..........I was heavy with the even,28
..........When she lit her glimmering tapers29.................................85
..........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. 90
Against the red throb of its sunset heart....................................
.......... I laid my own30 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 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;31
..........Let her, if she would owe32 me,..........................................100
Drop yon blue-bosomed 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 unperturbèd 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 hast hewn from me,
..........And smitten me to my knee;
.......I am defenceless utterly.
.......I slept, methinks, and woke,...................................................115
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;33 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 like sun-starts on a stream.
.......Yeah, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist.34
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.
.......Ah! is Thy Love indeed............................................................130
A weed, albeit an Amaranthine35 weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
.......Ah! must—
.......Designer Infinite!—
Ah! must thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn36 with it? 135
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?37
I dimly guess what time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon, a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of eternity;................................................145
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd 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
.......The harvest, must thy harvest fields
.......Be dunged with rotten death?
....... Now of that long pursuit,
....... Comes 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..........................................160
.......Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I38 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,39 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:..................................175
.......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 dravest40 love from thee who dravest Me."...................................182 


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Notes

1......and in the mist . . . laughter: The speaker hides whether he is sad or whether he is laughing.
2......vistaed hopes: Hopes accompanied by a vision of what is to come or what is anticipated.
3......Adown: down.
4......chasmèd: Having chasms.
5......outlaw-wise: Like an outlaw.
6......By many . . .charities: While fleeing from God, the speaker stops at a heart-shaped window casement of a dwelling in which reside (figuratively) the three charities of Greek mythology: Aglaia, who represents brightness and splendor; Euphrosyne, who represents joy; and Thalia, who represents good cheer and laughter. They were associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The speaker of the poem may be attempting to escape God by losing himself in an amorous episode.
7......Lest . . . beside: The speaker worries that yielding to God will rob him of earthly pleasures. The line ends with the preposition beside, which takes an object. It should end with the adverb besides. However, poetic license excuses the speaker from a grammatical faux pas.
8....wist not: Knew not how.
9....margent: Edge; border; perimeter.
10...troubled . . . moon: The speaker pounds on the gold gateways of the stars, rattling the bars, and on the gates (ports) of the moon, jarring them and causing them to make a silver (silvern) sound that is soft and sweet (dulcet). 
11...Eve: Evening.
12...skiey: Of the sky; from the sky. Skiey is a coined word (neologism).
13...veil: Veil of night.
14...His servitors: God's servants
15...sue: Implore, beg.
16...they: The winds.
17...savannahs of the blue: Expanse of the sky.
18...'thwart: Athwart.
19..plashy: Splashing
20..spurn: Kick.
21..Lady Mother's: Nature's.
22..azured daïs: A daïs is a platform in a dining hall for seats of honor. Here, azured daïs is a metaphor for the blue sky.
23..lucent-weeping: Shining or translucent.
24..dayspring: Dawn.
25..Drew . . . secrecies: Unlocked nature's secrets.
26..All that's  . . . divine: All that is born or dies (that is, all that rises or droops) shaped the moods of the speaker, making him sad (wailful) or divinely happy.
27..bereaven: made sad.
28..even: Evening.
29..glimmering tapers: Stars.
30..my own: My own heart.
31..drouth: Archaic word for thirst.
32..owe: Own.
33..I shook . . . upon me: Perhaps an allusion to the Samson story in the Bible (Judges 16).
34..Yeah . . . lutanist: The dreamer cannot dream, and the lute player (lutenist or lutanist) cannot play.
35..Amaranthine: Undying, everlasting. Derivation: amaranth, a flower that legend says never fades.
36..char . . . limn: Must You burn the wood so that You can draw with it? In other words, must I suffer before You can work with me?
37..The pulp . . . rind: The world, earthly life, has tasted bitter. What will eternity be like?
38..but I: Here, but is a preposition. Technically, me—not I—should follow a preposition.
39..Alack: Interjection expressing regret.
40..dravest: drive.

Style

As in the odes of other writers of the nineteenth century, Thompson wrote "The Hound of Heaven" in elevated, dignified diction. To enhance its dignity, he used many archaic words—such as alack, methinks, adown, thee, and thy—giving the poem a biblical ring. To maintain rhythm and euphony, he sometimes added a syllable to a word by inserting a grave accent over an e—as in chasmèd, unperturbèd, and followèd

Point of View

The speaker tells of his experiences in first-person point of view, now and then quoting the words of his pursuer. 

End Rhyme

End rhyme occurs, but there is no definite scheme. The highlighted syllables demonstrate the end rhyme in the first stanza. 

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 chasmèd 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."
Internal Rhyme

Internal rhyme also occurs, as in the following lines. 

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways (line 3)
And unperturbèd pace
Float thy vague veil about me lest He see (line 33)
In face of man or maid (line 53)
And smitten me to my knee (line 112)
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest (line 179)
Verse Format

Most of the feet in poem consist of iambs in lines of varying lengths. Following are examples.

.......1...............2..............3..................4...................5
The PULP..|..so BIT..|..ter HOW..|..shall TASTE..|..the RIND...........(iambic pentameter)
...1..............2..................3..................4...................5
I DIM..|..ly GUESS..|..what TIME..|..in MISTS..|..con FOUNDS.........(iambic pentameter)
 

...1..............2...............3.............4
I AM..|..de FENCE..|..less UT..|..ter LY............................................(iambic tetrameter)
 

....1..............2................3
I LAID..|..my OWN..|..to BEAT........................................................(iambic trimeter)
........1...................2.................3
And SHARE..|..com MING..|..ling HEAT...........................................(iambic trimeter)
 

.....1................2............3
Such IS;..|..what IS..|..to BE?..........................................................(iambic trimeter)

.....1..................2...........
Not FOR..|..thy HARMS..................................................................(iambic dimeter)

.....1
Ah! MUST....................................................................................(iambic monometer)


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Theme

The theme of the poem is that only God can provide true and lasting happiness; the pleasures and comforts of this world—which are temporary and incomplete—cannot satisfy the deep longing for God. The speaker, of course, attempts to escape the pursuit of a loving God in order to to enjoy the pleasures of life—sinful and otherwise—but worries that he will have to sacrifice his earthly delights if he accepts God. But none of the world's pleasures truly satisfies him. He realizes at the end of the poem that only God can make him truly happy..

Figures of Speech

Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.

Alliteration

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears (line 4)
And unperturbèd pace (line 11)
Float thy vague veil about me lest He see (line 33)
In face of man or maid (line 53)
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine (line 89)
My harness, piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me (111)
Anaphora
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 (lines 1-3)

Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses (lines 63-64)

I knew all the swift importings on the wilful face of skies,
I knew how the clouds arise (lines 76-77)

Apostrophe
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon (line 30)
The speaker address dawn and evening.

Metaphor

.......The entire poem is a metaphor for a chase. The speaker uses words such as fled, sped, speed, shot, followed, chase, pace, swift, and pursuit to develop the metaphor. 

chasmèd fears (line 8)
Comparison of fears to objects in a chasm

Clung to the whistling mane of every wind (line 39)
Comparison of the wind to a galloping horse. (A horse has a mane.)

I swung the earth, a trinket at my wrist (line 127)
Comparison of the earth to a trinket and to his adventures (implied)

Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? (lines 178-179)
Comparison of gloom to the shade of God's hand

The long savannahs of the blue (line 41)
Comparison of skies to plains on earth

Oxymoron
unhurrying chase (line 10)
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit (line 37)
Paradox
they speak by silences (line 97)
Personification
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me
Drop yon blue-bosomed veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o' her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth. (lines 98-103)
Comparison of nature to a woman

Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • Do you agree or disagree with the theme of the poem. Write an essay that explains your answer. Use paraphrases, quotations, and summaries from the poem, as well as library and Internet research, to support your position. 
  • Read the definition of enjambment in an encyclopedia or dictionary or in the list of literary terms on this site. Then identify lines in "The Hound of Heaven" where enjambment occurs. 
  • What is the meaning of line 15: "All things betray thee who betrayest me"?
  • What is the meaning of line 160: "Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me"?
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