On this day in 1907 died Francis Thompson, aged 47. He had been in poor health after years of sleeping rough and addiction. Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, writers themselves, took him under their wings, found writing work for him and helped him get published, but TB had already claimed him.
This poem is by W. H. Davies, his younger contemporary, who had himself known life on the streets of London and of American cities. He knew of what he wrote.
Thou hadst no home, and thou couldst see In every street the windows' light: Dragging thy limbs about all night, No window kept a light for thee. However much thou wert distressed, Or tired of moving, and felt sick, Thy life was on the open deck— Thou hadst no cabin for thy rest. Thy barque was helpless 'neath the sky, No pilot thought thee worth his pains To guide for love or money gains— Like phantom ships the rich sailed by. Thy shadow mocked thee night and day, Thy life's companion, it alone; It did not sigh, it did not moan, But mocked thy moves in every way. In spite of all, the mind had force, And, like a stream whose surface flows The wrong way when a strong wind blows, It underneath maintained its course. Oft didst thou think thy mind would flower Too late for good, as some bruised tree That blooms in Autumn, and we see Fruit not worth picking, hard and sour. Some poets feign their wounds and scars. If they had known real suffering hours, They'd show, in place of Fancy's flowers, More of Imagination's stars. So, if thy fruits of Poesy Are rich, it is at this dear cost— That they were nipt by Sorrow's frost, In nights of homeless misery. From "Foliage: Various Poems" by W. H. Davies. See also another Welsh Poet, R. S. Thomas, who also observed the difference between the surface and the depths.