An Arab Love-Song

    THE hunchèd camels of the night
    Trouble the bright
    And silver waters of the moon.
    The Maiden of the Morn will soon
    Through Heaven stray and sing,
    Star gathering.

    Now while the dark about our loves is strewn,
    Light of my dark, blood of my heart, O come!
    And night will catch her breath up, and be dumb.

    Leave thy father, leave thy mother
    And thy brother;
    Leave the black tents of thy tribe apart!
    Am I not thy father and thy brother,
    And thy mother?
    And thou -- what needest with thy tribe's black tents
    Who hast the red pavilion of my heart?

    Francis Thompson (1859-1907)


English poet, Francis Thompson was born in Preston. His first volume of poems (1893) included his best known work, The Hound of Heaven, a deeply moving and mystical Catholic ode. Living at the end of the Victorian era Thompson used a very conventional idea to get his point across in his Arab Love-Song. To understand the analogy he is making beneath the surface you have to know a little background about his life. Once you do, I'll leave you dear reader, to reason it out.

He spent a great deal of his early years searching for a profession and meaning creating a life that is as interesting as his poetry. He was born December 18, 1859, studied for the Catholic priesthood but found himself unsuited to it, tried medicine instead, but failed three times in as many schools. In London, poor and sick, he took up an opium habit. By the winter of 1887, Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, the editor of a minor Catholic literary magazine called Merry England, was the recipient of strange parcel which contents included an essay and some poems, along with the following cover letter :

    Dear Sir,
    In enclosing the accompanying article for your inspection, I must ask pardon for the soiled state of the manuscript. It is due, not to slovenliness, but to the strange places and circumstances under which it has been written ... I enclose a stamped envelope for a reply .. regarding your judgement of its worthlessness as quite final ... Apologizing very sincerely for my intrusion on your valuable time, I remain,

    Yours with little hope,
    Francis Thompson
    Kindly address your rejection to the Charing Cross Post Office.

By the time Wilfrid Meynell read the manuscripts and wanted to publish the work Thompson was not to be found and Meynell's letter was returned as undeliverable by the Charing Cross Post Office. After a fruitless search, he decided to publish one of the poems in the April 1888 issue of Merry England in the hope of finding its author. This ploy was successful; Thompson, ragged from a recent opium bender, showed up in Meynell's office. His life was turned around when he was taken in by Maynell and and his wife Alice, both English poets themselves, restored him to health. He sequestered himself in a Sussexmonastary and began turning out some of the most powerful religious poetry of his age. Battling depression and opium addiction for most of his life, sadly Thompson died of tuberculosis while he was still fairly young.

Sources:

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Thompson, Francis," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Francis Thompson: author of 'The Hound of Heaven':
http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2000/may2000p12_57.html

Public Domain text taken from:
http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/thomps01.html#4

CST Approved.

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