This poem, written by Francis Thompson (1859 - 1907), was first published in 1893 in his book Poems, although the exact date of composition is unknown. It is reckoned one of the classic works of late Victorian poetry. Nonetheless, its religious theme and mannered diction may be off-putting to modern viewers: it lacks the rawness, passion and innovation of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry written around the same time. Because of its classic status (which perhaps exceeds its poetic merit), it was included in Brigid Brophy, Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne's book Fifty works of English Literature we could do without.

Thompson was a member of the Aesthetic movement in the late nineteenth century, which counted amongst its followers Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson and Aubrey Beardsley, and like many of them he was a Roman Catholic. During his life, he was a heavy drinker and unable to settle into a career. However, religion appears to have been more important to Thompson than to most of his contemporaries, with much of his verse on religious subjects, and this poem has remained popular in Catholic circles ever since.

Outside religious circles, Thompson's reputation is not high, and he is criticised for his "verbosity and lack of originality in thought"1. The poem lacks the playfulness and novel imagery we find in the religious poetry of John Donne or George Herbert (or even T.S. Eliot), relying on the extended metaphor of the chase (extended metaphor, like seriousness, appears to be out of fashion among today's readers and critics), and makes reference to common poetic items like stars, the wind, chariots, flowers, smoke and labyrinths. There are however some very impressive metaphors:

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 griefs so overplussed.

Although the poet makes use of such poetic devices as an irregular rhyme scheme and repetition, the structure of the poem is loose and discursive, held together by the flow of the argument and a style heavy in apostrophic interjections. Many lines end in an unstressed syllable, which reduces the force of its rhythm, making it sound more prosy and less epigrammatic or concise.

Thompson's ode is written in the first person and tells of the speaker's doomed attempt to escape from God, which is imagined as a literal chase, the sinner pursued by an inexorable God. It is perhaps more impressive if read aloud, when the drama of the piece can be more easily appreciated: Thompson's poetic style depends more on rhetoric than beauty, sentiment or verbal cleverness. Part of its power and importance lies in Thompson's attempt to renew the old religious themes and create a new version of religious poetry; however, it is arguable how new this voice of his was.

To end with some praise, here is G. K. Chesterton on the poem:

That is the primary point of the work of Francis Thompson; even before its many-coloured pageant of images and words. The awakening of the Domini canes, the Dogs of God, meant that the hunt was up once more; the hunt for the souls of men; and that religion of that realistic sort was anything but dead . . . . In any case, it was an event of history, as much as an event of literature, when personal religion returned suddenly with something of the power of Dante or the Dies Irae, after a century in which such religion had seemed to grow more weak and provincial, and more and more impersonal religions appeared to possess the future. And those who best understand the world know that the world is changed; and that the hunt will continue until the world turns to bay.2


  • 1 "Francis Thompson", The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002., viewed January 14, 2002.
  • 2 G. K. Chesterton, quoted in Julia Bolton Holloway, "Francis Thompson: The Hound of Heaven", at viewed January 14, 2002.

  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."

              I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
  By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
      Trellised with intertwining charities;
  (For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
              Yet was I sore adread
  Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
  But, if one little casement parted wide,
      The gust of His approach would clash it to:
      Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
  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.
  To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
      Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
            But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
          The long savannahs of the blue;
              Or whether, Thunder-driven,
            They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven,
  Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet: --
      Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
              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.
  "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,
              With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses,
              With her in her wind-walled palace,
              Underneath her azured daïs,
              Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
                  From a chalice
  Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring."
                  So it was done:
  I in their delicate fellowship was one --
  Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
              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 divine;
              With them joyed and was bereaven.
              I was heavy with the even,
              When she lit her glimmering tapers
              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;
  Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
              I laid my own 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 not 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;
              Let her, if she would owe me,
  Drop yon blue bosom-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,
  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.
  My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
  Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
              Yea, faileth now even dream
  The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
  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 griefs so overplussed.
              Ah! is Thy love indeed
  A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
  Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
              Ah! must
              Designer infinite! --
  Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
  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?
  I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
  Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
  From the hid battlements of Eternity;
  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
              Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
              Be dunged with rotten death?

                  Now of that long pursuit
                  Comes on 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!
              Strange, piteous, futile thing!
  Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
  Seeing none but I 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, 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:
              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 dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."