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.
“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.
I sought no more that, after which I strayed,
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daïs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with—made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine—
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
John had a degree in chemistry and a job that used his skills and experience. His employers were sympathetic to the needs of their employees, and tried hard to accommodate John’s mental ill-health but they parted company when he became unable to do his work and was in a mental hospital under a section.
Around this time John visited and told us he blamed his plight on past drug misuse that had permanently affected the way his brain worked.
His face comes to mind when I am approached by beggars or homeless people: would giving them money be giving bread or a stone? (Matthew 7:9) Another question: would I give my son money in the near-certain knowledge that it would be spent on mind-altering drugs? (Thank God he has more sense.) But at least I can trust ‘Catching Lives’ to use my donations to provide nourishment, support and shelter.
For example: Catching Lives run Canterbury Community Shelter:
It is open throughout December, January and February, in partnership with 7 churches in Canterbury and provides overnight accommodation for rough sleepers to shelter from the cold weather, and to work with staff and volunteers to find more permanent housing.
A strong team of volunteers carries out a variety of roles:
- Kitchen volunteers to help cook and serve supper for the shelter guests.
- Evening volunteers to welcome the guests in, play board games, chat, etc.
- Overnight volunteers to support the paid staff at the church halls.
- Volunteers to take bedding to and from the church halls in mornings and evenings.
No-one can claim this is the answer to a complex web of problems, but it is bread, not stones.
Image from: https://www.lds.org/bible-videos/videos/peter-and-john-heal-a-man-crippled-since-birth?lang=eng
Acts 3: 1- 10; Luke 24: 13 – 35.
In today’s Gospel reading, we see two of Jesus’ disciples running away in fear and disappointment. Even when Jesus met them on the way, out of fear, they did not recognize him until the breaking of bread. In our lives when we face disappointment, do we run away in fear like these two disciples on their way to Emmaus or do we face our disappointment with courage, seeking the face of God through prayer?
In the first reading, Peter and John, filled with the power of the Resurrection, were going to the Temple to pray. They were met with a challenging situation at the Beautiful Gate. But they did not run away or ignore the man who was begging and, who “turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them”. They looked at him with mercy and said, by the power that raised Jesus from the dead, “stand and walk”. This man received the best gift ever in his life. He was walking around praising God.
How do I respond to people on my way who look to me expectantly with the hope of receiving something from me or who ask me questions? We may not heal as Peter and John did, but we can offer a kind word, a listening ear, a kind smile. We all are poor in our own way and God has given us all something to offer to each other.. So, let us not walk away in fear from the poor person on the street.
May God fill us with the power of His Resurrection. Amen.
Sister Clare Knowles is one of our writers – one of the FMSL team, on the extreme right below. The ‘L’ in FMSL stands for Littlehampton, which is close to Worthing, a seaside town where the Christian Churches have come together to tackle homelessness. You can read more about that project here: http://www.wchp.org.uk/
Clare has found a down-to-earth way of raising money for the project: jumping out of a plane (with parachute and mentor attached).
Please sponsor her and help get people in off the streets and fulfilling their potential in life.
Here is the link to make donations: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/clareknowles1
Thank you for your generous support.
Left to right: Sisters Susan, Esther, Elizabeth, Marcellina, Patricia and Clare FMSL
That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.
Stray Birds XXII
Or in the words of the Welsh Poet W.H. Davies:
Good Morning Life and all things glad and beautiful.
I fully realise that for you, reader, maybe this is not the way you feel today. Certainly not ‘all things glad and beautiful.’ WHD knew suffering as a tramp, an amputee and a homeless hostel dweller before he was helped to become a full time writer. ‘What is this life if full of care …’ was written from experience.
‘… we have no time to stand and stare?’ Davies continues. It is no bad discipline to make time to stand and stare at any moment, or sit and reflect at day’s end. There is never a day without something to be grateful for: a smile, a star, sunshine on waves, an unseasonably early flower, dust motes dancing in a beam of light. And more small mercies to come tomorrow.
May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.
(Sculptures in Assisi, near Domus Pacis)
‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’
I work as a volunteer in a community centre that provides food for homeless people. Working in the Centre has exposed me to meeting different people with different needs. Some just need someone to notice they exist, some just want to be left alone, while others would like to chat. One particular client created a deep impression on me. He was man of middle age. Looking at his face and disposition, I wondered what made him always happy and smiling. It was obvious he could not boast even of basic necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter. One day, I summoned courage to ask him why he was on the streets. This was his response: “you know sister, as an ex-convict it is difficult to find a job” but he told me he was determined to stay ‘clean’. His response made me admire his courage and wish I could do more to help him. There is this tendency of mine to write myself and others off because of one mistake or other, but everyone given the chance is capable of changing from bad to good decisions. I thank that man and others at the centre for helping me “learn to love without condition. Talk without bad intention, and most of all care for people without any expectation” (The Essence of Life).