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September 28, 2007

Blog-a-Book: Moment of inspiration

Prayinghands Like my heroine Harriet Vane, I'm incurably honest in matters of literary criticism. Which is why I have to say that Francis Thompson (1859-1907), British poet featured in The Book of Uncommon Prayer, wrote incredibly hokey poems.

Take the theme of what it would have been like for the Lord Jesus Christ to come to earth as a little child. Right there you have the material for a haunting, powerful poem. From Thompson, we get this:

I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;
I would look about the air
And wonder where the angels were;
And at waking 'twould distress me --
Not an angel there to dress me.

"Not an angel there to dress me"?

I'm sorry, that's just . . . hokey.

Which makes it all more amazing to me that Francis Thompson also wrote one of the best known, best loved, most beautiful and moving poems in the entire Christian tradition. To wit:

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."

(That's the part quoted in Uncommon Prayer. The text of the entire poem is here.)

If you ever doubt that God can inspire and use anyone at all, look no further than Francis Thompson and his immortal "Hound of Heaven."

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