Click below to listen to this post about the Hound of Heaven on the Candidly Kendra podcast:
(Click below to watch my reading of The Hound Of Heaven. Continue reading after for my devotional discussion of “The Hound of Heaven”)
Every year around this time we go to our family cabin in the mountains near Westcliffe, Colorado. Sometimes it snows – sometimes it snows a lot! – and I pretend that we live in Little House on the Prairie. (Did I mention that this is a very rustic cabin?) It’s the place where we can get away, escape, and hide out.
We always take our dog, Spike. Spike takes off at full speed the moment we let him out of the car and doesn’t stop moving for hours. He’s a happy dog at the cabin!
But his favorite place at the cabin might be the wood pile. I think that something must live in the wood pile, and Spike is relentless in his desire to flush it out. He is focussed. Determined! Single-minded.
This is how determined our Hound of Heaven God is to track down and save his children’s souls!
A few years ago I looked up the poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson (1893) because I was intrigued by the idea of God’s pursuit of our souls. The poem is incredibly beautiful, and I want to share it with you!
“The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson
(Originally published in 1893, public domain)
This poem tells the story of a soul running from the Hound of Heaven.
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.’
God is like a Hound of Heaven, deliberately, unperterbedly and unhurryingly pursuing us. And when we wonder why the world betrays us, he says, “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.” Why are we surprised when the world turns against us, hurts us, cancels us? Only God will never betray us!
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)
I love the insight of this statement, loosely paraphrased, “I knew he loved me, but I dreaded his love. I was afraid that if I chose him, I would have to give up everything else!”
Have you ever been afraid to follow God, thinking he would take away the things you loved?
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.
The Hound of Heaven was pressing in close, because, after all, “Fear can’t hide as well as love can 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.’
The soul ran on, seeking shelter from the deliberate pursuit of the Hound of Heaven. He even sought help from the servants of the Hound of Heaven, only to discover that they were loyal to Him (the Hound), and, therefore, betrayed the Soul. Still, coming unhurryingly, deliberately, the Hound of Heaven said, “No one will shelter you, you who will not shelter me.”
Where have you sought shelter apart from God? In finances? In friendships? In success?
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.
The Soul turned from men and women, and looked instead to children to help him. “Surely they at least are for me!” But just when he thought maybe that would work – no. Children couldn’t save him.
Have you ever looked for children to save you? Have you placed your greatest hopes on your own kids? Moms can do this sometimes!
‘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 shaper
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
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Giving up on the safety of humans altogether, next the Soul turns to Nature. Maybe the wind, the weather, the sky could bring true security. It seemed like a moment that maybe this would work. The Soul connected deeply with Nature. But, alas, even Nature couldn’t soothe the Soul. Nature couldn’t quench his thirst.
Are you thirsting for something, and find that the world’s water leaves you “high and dry”? This reminds me of John 4:13,14, when Jesus is talking to the woman at the well and says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus is the living water, the only One who can quench our soul-thirst.
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 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, as time gathers in piles at the Soul’s feet, he comes to terms with the arrival of the Hound of Heaven. I’m struck by the imagery presented in his dreaded anticipation: “Love’s uplifted stroke”… love as a weed, allowing no flowers except his own, …bitter pulp, bitter rind,… harvest fields dunged with rotten death. The Soul understands that the Love of the Hound of Heaven is so immense as to destroy anything else that moves against it. He imagines the terror of such complete love, never comprehending the transforming beauty of it.
As Jesus says in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Have you ever dreaded God, forgetting for a moment the gentleness of his immense love? Have you ever flinched away from his hand, imagining that it was raised to strike you, only to find that hand touching you more tenderly than any mother could?
And now we come to the beautiful conclusion of this powerful poem.
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.’
Finally God (ahem, the Hound of Heaven) comes, and sees the world in pieces at the Soul’s feet. He says, “There is no one left to love you but Me. There was always only Me! You thought I would hurt you, but everything I did was for your good. Everything I took was to give you something better!”
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest! I am he whom thou seekest! You drive away Love from yourself when you drive away me!”
Are you ready to accept His love? What are you waiting for?
You might enjoy this: The Hound of Heaven: A Modern Adaptation by Brian Oxley
(Please note, I read the poem n its original version.)