No poet ever possessed a stronger sense of God’s presence revealed in
His own creation than Francis Thompson (1859-1907). Though his language
sounds Victorian to our ears, his theology seems modern. Above all, he
recognized the interconnectedness of all things, and believed that every
part of Nature ultimately linked up with the Creator:
When to the new eyes of thee
All things by immortal power,
Near or far
To each other linked are
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.
A rebel, Thompson had come back to the religious faith of his
childhood the hard way. For several years in his twenties, he dropped
out of society, and became a homeless person, sleeping on London’s river
embankment, dulling his hunger and chilblains with drugs, until the
success of his poems rescued him from this life. Yet it was during this
time of privation that he learned to see God all around him:
The angels keep their ancient places
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘is your estranged faces
That miss the many-splendored thing.
The snowflakes which almost froze him one winter, nevertheless
revealed themselves as miracles of heavenly handiwork, filling him with
What heart could have thought you?–
Past our devisal
(O filigree petal!)
Fashioned so purely,
From what Paradisal
Too costly for cost?
These were not sentimental visions. Thompson’s most famous poem, “The Hound of heaven” tells of trying to escape God, only to find Divine Love hunting the poet everywhere he ran: “Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.” The message brought home to us in the work of this great mystic writer –once a best-seller –is that only our pride blinds us to our Maker, and cuts us off from one another and from Nature.