Tag Archives: Francis Thompson

12 June: No heart In God.

IN SLEEP

We step aside from our Scriptural exploration of the Sacred Heart to listen to a poet, Alice Meynell, from her 1917 collection, ‘A Father of Women’. There was much to be wrathful about, much to shed a tear for. To continue to fight for justice, all the while believing there is nothing, springs from a special courage acknowledged here by Alice Meynell, friend of the rough sleeping drug addict and insightful poet, Francis Thompson. Thirty years on and the Welfare State was coming to existence in the United Kingdom.

I dreamt (no “dream” awake—a dream indeed)
A wrathful man was talking in the park:
“Where are the Higher Powers, who know our need
         And leave us in the dark?

“There are no Higher Powers; there is no heart
In God, no love”—his oratory here,
Taking the paupers’ and the cripples’ part,
         Was broken by a tear.

And then it seemed that One who did create
Compassion, who alone invented pity,
Walked, as though called, in at that north-east gate,
         Out from the muttering city;

Threaded the little crowd, trod the brown grass,
Bent o’er the speaker close, saw the tear rise,
And saw Himself, as one looks in a glass,
         In those impassioned eyes.

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Going Viral XXIII: city pavements.

Some of us must take our permitted walks on city pavements, as HDGB did recently. He was not unrewarded.

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.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Francis Thompson, The Kingdom of God. See our post, August 9, 2017 for the full text. Thompson knew great sadness, mental illness, addiction, but friends fund him and encouraged him.

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11 April, Holy Saturday: The Passion of Mary

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

On this Saturday as children we were invited to think of Mary. I for one could not get beyond an air of dull pain engendered by the stripped, silent church – an opportunity to get some deep cleaning and polishing done, it’s true, but all in a punishing silence. Francis Thompson knew pain more intimately than most people. We sang these verses during Lent.

VERSES IN PASSION-TIDE

O LADY Mary, thy bright crown
Is no mere crown of majesty;
For with the reflex of His own
Resplendent thorns Christ circled thee.

The red rose of this Passion-tide
Doth take a deeper hue from thee,
In the five wounds of Jesus dyed,
And in thy bleeding thoughts, Mary!

The soldier struck a triple stroke,
That smote thy Jesus on the tree:
He broke the Heart of Hearts, and broke
The Saint’s and Mother’s hearts in thee.

Thy Son went up the angels’ ways,
His passion ended; but, ah me!
Thou found’st the road of further days
A longer way of Calvary:

On the hard cross of hope deferred
Thou hung’st in loving agony,
Until the mortal-dreaded word
Which chills our mirth, spake mirth to thee.

The angel Death from this cold tomb
Of life did roll the stone away;
And He thou barest in thy womb
Caught thee at last into the day,
Before the living throne of Whom
The Lights of Heaven burning pray.

L’ENVOY

O thou who dwellest in the day!
Behold, I pace amidst the gloom:
Darkness is ever round my way
With little space for sunbeam-room.

Yet Christian sadness is divine
Even as thy patient sadness was:
The salt tears in our life’s dark wine
Fell in it from the saving cross.

Bitter the bread of our repast;
Yet doth a sweet the bitter leaven:
Our sorrow is the shadow cast
Around it by the light of Heaven.

O light in Light, shine down from Heaven!

Francis Thompson knew the bitterness of life; it was difficult, at times, for his friends to help him out of the shadows into the light in which he believed. Hoping against hope. he paced amid the gloom of 19th Century London streets, yet looking for mirth beyond death.

If you can ask a friend to pray for you, then in the communion of saints and life everlasting, you can ask Mary to pray for you too. If you are a poet, you can address her in poetry.

Much of the imagery of Thomson’s poem can be seen in the Rood from Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge; but this is a Risen Jesus, wearing a truly royal crown, not the resplendent thorns. Let us pray that Francis Thompson may be forever surrounded by the light of Heaven, and that we too may join him.

 

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August 1: A Pilgrim.

 

terrible london

Not a view of London any of us will have seen, though the crowded streets are still there. Saint Paul’s too, miraculously remains, but it has been overshadowed by the temples of Mammon. This picture and text are from ‘London Impressions’ by Alice Meynell, illustrated by William Hyde, pub; Archibald Constable, 1898, available on Project Gutenberg.

Now and then a firefly strays from the vineyard into the streets of an Italian city, and goes quenched in the light of the shops. The stray and waif from ‘the very country’ that comes to London is a silver-white seed with silken spokes or sails. There is no depth of the deep town that this visitant does not penetrate in August—going in, going far, going through, by virtue of its indescribable gentleness.

The firefly has only a wall to cross, but the shining seed comes a long way, a careless alien but a mighty traveller. Indestructibly fragile, the most delicate of all the visible signs of the breeze, it goes to town, makes light of the capital, sets at nought the thoroughfares and the omnibuses, especially flouts the Park, one may suppose, where it does not grow. It hovers and leaps at about the height of first-floor windows, by many a mile of dull drawing-rooms, a country creature quite unconverted to London and undismayed. This flâneur makes as little of our London as his ancestor made of Chaucer’s.

Sometimes it takes a flight on a stronger wind, and its whiteness shows dark with slight shadow against bright clouds, as the whiter snow-flake also looks dark from its shadow side. Then it comes down in a tumult of flight upon the city. It is a very strong little seed-pod, set with arms, legs, or sails—so ingeniously set that though all grow from the top of the pod their points together make a globe; on these it turns a ‘cart-wheel’ like a human boy—like many boys, in fact, it must overtake on its way through the less respectable of the suburbs—only better. Every limb, itself so fine, is feathered with little plumes that are as thin as autumn spider-webs. Nothing steps so delicately as that seed, or upon such extreme tiptoe. But it does not walk far; the air bears the charges of the wild journey.

Thistle-seeds—if thistle-seeds they be—make few and brief halts, then roll their wheel on the stones for a while, and then the wheel is a-wing again. You encounter them in the country, setting out for town on a south wind, and in London there is not a street they do not recklessly stray along. For they use our arbitrary streets; it does not seem that they make a bee-line over the top of the houses, and cross London thus. They use the streets which they treat so lightly. They conform, for the time, to human courses, and stroll down Bond Street and turn up Piccadilly, and go to the Bank on a long west wind—their strolling being done at a certain height, in moderate mid-air.

They generally travel wildly alone, but now and then you shall see two of them, as you see butterflies go in couples, flitting at leisure at Charing Cross. The extreme ends of their tender plumes have touched and have lightly caught each other. But singly they go by all day, with long rises and long descents as the breeze may sigh, or more quickly on a high level way of theirs. Nothing wilder comes to town—not even the scent of hay on morning winds at market-time in June; for the hay is for cab-horses, and it is at home in the clattering mews, and has a London habit of its own.

White meteor, lost star, bright as a cloud, the seed has many images of its radiant flight. But there is only one thing really like it—the point of light caught by a diamond, with the regular surrounding rays.

Alice Meynell and her husband Wilfrid were the first to publish Francis Thompson’s poetry, and did much to rescue him from his addiction to opium, welcoming him to share their family life. They would surely have said ‘Laudato Si!’ with Pope Francis, as this observation demonstrates. And the seed could have come from a goatsbeard head, like this one from near Elmstead in Kent. Goatsbeard is a very large dandelion.

goatsbeard.small

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by | August 1, 2019 · 01:18

September 19: The reality that is proclaimed

chris-preaching

Austin’s reflections, Constantina’s art, the Zambian Poor Clares’ dance that we saw on St Clare’s Day; these reflections too: all are intended to bear witness to – what exactly? I think we need to remind ourselves often what is the Gospel we proclaim. I was about to throw out a scrap of paper this afternoon, but held off till I’d copied this.

When preaching takes place, the ‘reality’ that is proclaimed, the crucified and risen Christ, is made present for the preacher and the hearer alike and is imparted to those who hear the preaching with faith.

Thus writes Fr Gerald O’Collins.*

He is developing an idea in Ad Gentes 9 the Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the centre and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He (God) brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker.

‘A sort of secret presence of God’ – it sounds almost like Francis Thompson! (see post on August 9th)

car-lights

Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

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.

Let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to share the many-splendoured thing, and the humility to perceive Jacob’s ladder pitched on our own pavements – and the unlikely characters shining as they ascend!

MMB.

*Vatican II and the Liturgical Presence of Christ in irish Theological Quarterly, 2/2012.

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August 18: An Appreciation of Francis Thompson by W.H. Davies.

fthompson.pic.1

Francis Thompson turned up again after I’d put his series to bed, so I’ll share this now. W. H. Davies was another poet who lived on the streets, though he was to find friendship and marriage and a long life span.

In this Davies uses his memories of seafaring and tramping to imagine Thompson’s life before he was welcomed into the life of the Meynell family. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head when he was travelling the dusty roads of Palestine. Can we see him in the homeless people we meet in the street? How best to give them bread and not stones?

Francis Thompson by W. H. Davies

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.

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August 10: Francis Thompson IX: In Darkest England.

In Darkest England

Thompson, a century ago, saw conditions that needed addressing. Having been homeless, he knew the life from inside. Here he compares the Salvation Army with the Franciscans, lamenting that there are not more of the latter. In view of the closure of the Franciscan Study Centre and the diminishing numbers of professed religious Franciscans, we can learn from the Salvation Army, and stand shoulder to shoulder with them with the Food Banks and other ecumenical ventures. The state of ecumenism, at least, is an advance on Thompson’s day.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Saint Clare, friend of St Francis and founder of the Franciscan sisters known as Poor Clares. Happy Feast to all our sisters!

Consider what the Salvation Army is. It is not merely a sect, it is virtually a Religious Order, but a Religious Order of a peculiar kind. It consists of men and women living in the world the life of the world, pursuing their businesses, marrying, bringing up families; yet united by rule and discipline, and pushing forward active work of charity and religious influence among the forsaken poor. It possesses, moreover, the advantage of numerous recruits from the ranks of the poor, through whom it can obtain intimate knowledge of the condition and requirements of their class.

May it be that here, too, the Salvation Army has studied St Francis? Here, too, the Assisian has left us a weapon which but needs little practice to adapt it to the necessity of the day. Even so… The Franciscan Tertiaries are this army. They are men and women who live in the world the life of the world – though not a worldly life: who marry, rear their families, attend to their worldly vocations; yet they are a Religious Order, with rule and observance.

Not all of us are called to join the Franciscan Tertiaries, but there are many openings for us to ‘meet the necessities of the day’. Something to ponder on.

MMB.

See The Works of Francis Thompson, Prose: Volume III, p57-58. Burns Oates, 1920.

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August 8: Francis Thompson VII: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: VI

open hand

“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

When I told Anne (see August 14 2016) I was sharing Francis Thompson on the blog, she said, ‘Francis Thompson, my father’s favourite writer.’ I hope you can see why. Maurice.

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August 7: Francis Thompson VI. THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: V

fthompson.pic.1

My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity,
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again;
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With grooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

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August 6: Francis Thompson V. The Hound of Heaven, IV.

fthompson.pic.1
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed majestic instancy
And past those noisèd Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
“Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”

Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly,
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
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.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?

‘Unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed’ – we can trust God to save us in his own time and as Good Shepherd he will seek out the lost. Maurice.

 

 

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