November 13 marks the 110th anniversary of the death of the poet Francis Thompson. I will pray for his eternal repose because he was a troubled soul, but few have sublimated their struggles more beautifully.
Thompson’s poetry first gave me an imaginative insight into the doctrine of
God’s immanence with lines such as:
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.
For Thompson, just as the fish doesn’t have to soar to find the ocean, the human soul doesn’t have to look further than his or her own life for signs of the presence of God. For all his Tennysonian diction – the “betwixts”, “casements” and “dravests” – there is a searing quality to his best poems which makes them not unlike some passages in the Psalms as they address the heartfelt question of where God is to be found. King David could easily have penned some of the lines in “The Hound of Heaven”: “My days have crackled and gone up in smoke, … Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke! … Is my gloom, after all,/ Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?”
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