A Powerful Poem I Often Return to for Inspiration

in spirituality •  5 months ago


Years ago, my wife's high-school religion teacher shared with me a prayer-of-a-poem, "The Hound of Heaven" by English poet Francis Thompson’s (1859-1907), that struck a deep chord within. Since then, annually, I return to this powerful 182-line piece for sustenance and inspiration. Basically, it's a poem that reminds one, in times of forgetfulness or doubt, that while one can run they cannot hide from God's grace.

J.R.R. Tokien said that reading this classic was “one of the most profound expressions of mature spiritual experience," while G.K. Chesterton claimed that it was “the greatest religious poem of modern times and one of the greatest of all times.” Decide for yourself, by reading the excerpt, below, or listening to a rousing reading of the poem in its entirety by actor Richard Burton:

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.’

—By Francis Thompson


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I don't think there's a poem in the English language that couldn't be improved by a reading from Richard Burton - he's practically an institution in British poetry! This is no exception.

I think the power in this piece comes from how it invokes, shamelessly, the passion and determination of religious teaching. It's no quiet contemplation, no dry sermon, but an evocation of that intense, innate connection of humans with the infinite. Sunday school would have been a lot more interesting, haha.

I am awed by its fervour, even if its specific message, ultimately, falls on deaf ears ;)


Interesting response, Lazarus.

To be frank, for all his beautiful phrasing and dramatic rendering, I find Burton slightly strident.

I hear this poem, in my head, as more pleading, broken and humble. A Divine love letter 💌


Fair enough, Burton does layer it on pretty thick, although I think a lot of poets from this period especially were quite consciously affecting the same way through their writings... I don't think he'd get away with it when reading Plath - perhaps all English poetry was a bit of a stretch ;)

But its the 'Hound' of heaven! Power incarnate, surely. Although I suspect we're coming at it from quite different angles, I might have to read it again...


Yes, I see what you mean... But, I maintain that booming Burton is better suited for the Hound of Heaven parts, not the contrite protagonist who is narrating the poem and living miserably with their god-shaped hole.

It's a believer's poem, to be sure -- more specifically, a convert's -- and when one has been through hell and back, they tend to sound less proud, more tender and sweetly defeated (I think).

So truth...we can't ever betray God without negative consequence.

One of the most expensive lessons learned is that when GOD speaks, listen...then...do what He says when He says; not when we feel ready.


I really like that one too, I show a video interpretation of it that sort of plays with the fear/rejection of God. I work in youth ministry. It is called "the pursuit". Here is a link. http://vcat.org/october-2012-pursuit/


Thanks, for sharing this; it’s well done. Interesting that you work in youth ministry & agreed with Supreme Court decision regarding travel ban...

"down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind"

Alas! How painfully and beautifully true. Some could say, with all expertises and research going on about human minds, psychology etc, we still fail to map out and even understand psyche of individual in consistent, scientific way.

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