The Hound of Heaven

Posted on April 11th, by nicholas in creativity, poets, rumination, theology, vocation. 2 comments

The Hound of Heaven

{writer and archivist, D.S. Martin, reflects on his calling to poetry by “The Hound of Heaven.”}

Often, we hardly realize how much something is influencing us until much later, and even then we may not understand its impact. When I was in high school, I was not much of a student, and I certainly didn’t have any thought that I could, or should, or would become a poet. Looking back now, I think one of the first steps in the process of my calling was the reading of Francis Thompson’s 1893 poem “The Hound of Heaven”. When I first heard that poem, I read it over and over – despite its considerable length (182 lines!).


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…


It grabbed me. Not merely because of its complex patterns or Thompson’s accomplishment at getting at something unique about the character of God. What impacted me most was simply that a poet of significant reputation was best known for such a spiritual poem; and what a poem!


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.”…


What next hit me, was that the character in the poem – the poet himself – wasn’t seeking God like anyone I knew who thought they wanted to be godly, or like the psalmist, lamenting the way the Divine One hides. This guy would have been pleased to have God mind his own business — except he was on the run from a God who was making it his business to chase him down. Here was a poet who wrote with passion about things that matter, and in such an unexpected manner! How cool it was to read such exciting lines!


Across the margent 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.

I said to Dawn: Be sudden — to Eve: Be soon;

With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over

From this tremendous Lover —

Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!

I tempted all His servitors, but to find

My own betrayal in their constancy,

In faith to Him their fickleness to me,

Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit…


It didn’t put me off that Thompson’s language was so archaic. That was part of its charm. I envisioned this wild-eyed madman, in ancient rags, running through crumbling ruins, pursued by a relentless, unseen force — and that force was God himself.


I slept, methinks, and woke,

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; grimed with smears,

I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years —

My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap…


Of course, I thought it was about some unsaved guy who didn’t want anything to do with God. I assumed the poet was only playing the role of this Jonah on the run. At the time I didn’t know that some of what Thompson was describing came from his real life, living with addiction on the streets of London. I also didn’t know, in quite a different way, that the poem was at the same time about me.

I now see how God was pursuing me so that I would become what he desired, even though I didn’t realize I was running.

My youth was being wasted by my inability to listen, and now “lies dead beneath the heap”. Even so, through the process comes redemption  — not just of my soul, but of all my wasted years.


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.”


This poem comes to such a provocative conclusion…if only I could figure out what “dravest” means.


D.S. Martin is a Canadian, known for his growing internet archive of Christian poetry: He has had two poetry collections published, So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon) and Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and is Series Editor for the new Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. His forthcoming collection, Conspiracy of Light, is inspired by the legacy of C.S. Lewis.

2 Responses to “The Hound of Heaven”

  1. The most powerful poem I’ve heard in this tribute month of poetry.

  2. Sharon Watts says:

    A very wise teacher in high school taught me that good art always stands independent of the creator. What happens as people interact with it changes everything about the piece. That is certainly true of this piece of poetry when you look at it through a Jonah type lens of a God pursuing humanity.

    The book of Jonah has always fascinated me. Not the fish story… but the complexity of the story written in those few small chapters. So many people do not read the entire book, but there is a change in the exact center of the story between the running Jonah and the Jonah who journeys as the reluctant prophet.

    When I was young I never understood the Jonah who ran away from what God was asking him to do, I thought he was just silly for doing that. Who can run from God? And yet when I look back on my life, it is my story. I ran from a call to the priesthood because I listened to people who told me a woman could not be a priest. God pursued me until I finally relented. I wasted many years in the belly of the fish.

    God redeemed my life of running and blessed me many times, but in the end God won. I had to take Jonah as the story of my life- running until I was captured and put where God wanted me to be. No matter what others think about the priesting of women, I had to relent. God wins and I only hope that I make a better prophet than Jonah- that I don’t go into the city and whispher the prophecy. That I don’t go up on the hill to pout.

    Even Jonah’s bad behavior didn’t stop God and sometimes I need to remember what God did through the whispher of a man… and the lesson of loving your enemy that God taught Jonah on the hill as Jonah pouted…

    I hope everyone who reads this blog falls in love with your favorite poem and your wonderful interpretation. Maybe they will also go to their Bibles and read this wonderful story in Scripture. Who knows if you can see your life as one running? Or were you wiser than Jonah and our poet who was pursued by Hounds?

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