For the next week and a half, Wuthering Expectations will be vacationing. No posts on vacation.
I did not mention that Francis Thompson wrote cricket poetry. The sport, not the insect. Talk about obscure. I will ignore those in favor of his unusual religious poems. Every poem I quoted yesterday was a religious poem, so I mean more religious poems, ones I understand.
The clearest, to me, is “’In No Strange Land,’” a vision of the “world invisible” as it operates on earth, specifically in London.
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.
And Christ is “walking on the water / Not of Geneserath, but Thames!” I think “thou” and “thy” are referring back to the poet, but that is just a guess. It is the specificity of the angels in London that I am enjoying here, “[t]he drift of pinions… at our own clay-shuttered doors.” But then I wonder what “clay-shuttered” might mean. If I just quote Thompson lines from which I understand every word, I won’t have much to quote.
Thompson’s masterpiece, “The Hound of Heaven,” is more abstract but succeeds in suggesting the sinful life of the speaker, who feels that Christ is a wild animal in pursuit of him, and who, if he catches the poet, will kill him, perhaps by eating his heart.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
So the poet flees:
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
The poet indulges in the pleasures of this world, asking nature to display herself naked to him, in a passage that has not aged so well. The results are ugly:
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.
The Hound, at the end of the poem, explains that the traumas suffered by the poet are not caused by the Hound but by the flight from it. The poet is Catholic, but the psychology of the poem, the fear that a spiritual experience can be a source of terror or harm, is more general. Not universal, perhaps, but common. It is the vision that drives a number of Flannery O’Connor characters, this frightening sense that the Hound will save them but in the process murder them.
I scouted around for O’Connor writing about “The Hound of Heaven” and found something quite funny, a 1963 letter wondering if youngsters should be kept from “The Hound of Heaven.”
Probably what he means about impounding “The Hound of Heaven” is that it ought not to be set up as THE type of religious poetry – lest the students think they had to have thous and thees and titanic glooms and whatnot in all religious poetry. I wouldn’t impound “The Hound of Heaven,” but I would impound “Trees” early on. Our pastor has a piece of bad verse to decorate most every sermon, all of which I feel sure was supplied him in some Catholic grammar school.
The sideswipe crack at Joyce Kilmer, another poet in the line of Patmore and Thompson, is pretty choice.