English poet. Born 1859 in Preston, Lancashire. Died 1907 in London.
Born into a Catholic middle class family in rural Lancashire, Thompson was the son of a country doctor. Educated at Ushaw College, a Catholic seminary, he went on to study medicine at Owens College, Manchester. Having neglected his studies for some time, he finally ran away to London, where he lived a life of poverty and hardship for three years, failing at every job he attempted. He was half-starved, diseased, and addicted to opium. Despite his misery, however, he found time to compose poetry. His poems Dream-Tryst and Paganism Old and New were written at this trying time in his life.
In 1888, he finally broke out of his destitution, gaining the patronage of Wilfrid Meynell, the editor of a Catholic magazine, Merry England. Meynell took the ailing poet under his wing, placing him in the care of a Premonstratensian monastery in Sussex. He was to become a regular guest at the monastery for the remainder of his life, intermittently battling resurgent opium addiction, and slowly being consumed by tuberculosis.
Over the course of the following years, Thompson became a significant figure in the so-called Aesthetic movement of the 1890s. His collected poems, in the volumes Poems, Sister Songs and New Poems, were published from 1889 to 1896, receiving little popular acclaim. Upon his death in 1907, however, he was eulogised fulsomely.
It was in the pages of Merry England that Thompson's most famous poem, The Hound of Heaven was published in 1890. A perennial favourite among Catholic poetry enthusiasts, The Hound of Heaven tells, in fulsomely pathetic words, the story of a sinner pursued by salvation as by a huntsman's hound, who comes at last to redemption in Christ. Despite its florid and somewhat overblown style, the poem's theme struck a chord in Catholic hearts, and remains popular to this day.
Thompson's collected oeuvre is limited in extent, and it is hard to judge him fairly from such a small sample. Though Robert Browning admired his work, he has received short shrift from critics in general. Today, his chief popularity lies with Catholic readers.
by Francis Thompson
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,
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?
The Kingdom of God
by Francis Thompson
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air-
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!-
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places-
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry--and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry--clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!