The Hound of Heaven

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"The Hound of Heaven" is a 182-line poem written by English poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907). The poem became famous and was the source of much of Thompson's posthumous reputation. The poem was first published in Thompson's first volume of poems in 1893.[1] It was included in the Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse (1917). Thompson's work was praised by G. K. Chesterton, and it was also an influence on J. R. R. Tolkien, who presented a paper on Thompson in 1914.[2]

This Christian poem has been described as follows:

"The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit." J.F.X. O'Conor, S.J.[3]

Musical settings[edit]

Also set as part of Benedictus by Howard Blake in 1989.


  • In 2014, N. D. Wilson wrote and directed a short film based upon the poem, titled "The Hound of Heaven".
  • Thompson's poem was the inspiration for a series of 23 paintings by the American painter R. H. Ives Gammell (1893–1981). Titled, A Pictorial Sequence Painted by R. H. Ives Gammell Based on The Hound of Heaven, it is considered Gammell's magnum opus. Gammell began making plans to execute the pictorial sequence during World War II and completed the series in 1956. For his paintings, Gammell used symbols drawn from C. G. Jung, primitive and medieval cultures, and biblical and mythological sources, to give visual form to Thompson's poem. The Pictorial Sequence was recently (March 15, 2013 through May 27, 2013) housed at the Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington, USA.[4]
  • Thompson's poem is also the source of the phrase, "with all deliberate speed," used by the Supreme Court in Brown II, the remedy phase of the famous decision on school desegregation.[5]
  • The Christian alternative rock band Daniel Amos wrote a song titled Hound of Heaven on their 1978 album Horrendous Disc that is based on the Thompson poem.[6]Review of Horrendous Disc
  • Contemporary Christian music artist Michael Card also wrote and recorded a song called "Hound of Heaven" based on Thompson's poem for his 1981 debut album First Light.
  • "The Hound of Heaven" is the fifth chapter in Robert L. Short's 1965 book The Gospel According to Peanuts where he describes Snoopy as a "little Christ" carrying out "Christ's ambivalent work of humbling the exalted and exalting the humble."[7]
  • "The Hound of Heaven" was mentioned in the suicide note of George R. Price, a geneticist who pioneered the evolutionary theory of altruism and suicide (among other things), before becoming a committed Christian and giving away all his possessions to the poor.[8]
  • In 1935, Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian spiritual master, included "The Hound of Heaven" in one of his phonographic albums, "Songs of My Heart". Today, his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, offers this album in the form of a CD. Kamala Silva, a purported direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, received the gift of a printing of the "Hound of Heaven" from Yogananda and he also recited it for her.[9][10]
  • In A. J. Cronin's novel, A Pocketful of Rye, the protagonist Carroll reads the poem as a young man, forgets it, and suffers from a recurring nightmare that finally leads to his conversion.
  • A short passage from the poem appears in chapter four of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.[11]
  • Lines from the poem are recited between the discussion during the last scene in "The last enemy", which is 2nd episode, 3rd season of Inspector Morse.
  • "The Hound of Heaven" is the first chapter in John Stott's book Why I am a Christian in which he confesses that he is a Christian not because of the influence of his parents and teachers, nor to his own personal decision, but to being relentlessly pursued by 'the Hound of Heaven', that is, Jesus Christ himself.[12]
  • The main character is reading a book by this name in the first episode of the Irish TV series Jack Taylor.
  • In 1955, a love letter from Suzanne Kempe to her philosophy lecturer, Sydney Sparkes Orr, quotes excerpts from the poem. Their affair was later brought to trial in Tasmania.[13]
  • In describing her journey from atheism and agnosticism to devout Christianity, Fox News commentator Kirsten Powers said, "The Hound of Heaven had pursued me and caught me...."[14]
  • "The Hound of Heaven" was used as an example of the hero's "refusal of the call" to adventure in Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
  • In 1970, Canadian artist William Kurelek used lines from "The Hound of Heaven" as titles for his "Nature, Poor Stepdame, A Series of Sixteen Farm Paintings".
  • In 1933, Halliday Sutherland used a phrase from the second line of the poem as the title of his best-selling autobiography "The Arches of the Years".
  • In 2001 Ken Bruen cites the poem admiringly in his novel The Guards.[15]
  • "The Hound of Heaven" inspired Norwegian composer Fartein Valen (1887–1952) to compose his Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 38 (1941).[16] The sonata's three movements reflect different parts of Thompson's poem. The piece has been recorded by Glenn Gould.
  • The poem is mentioned and lines quoted in the novel Escape from Hell (2009) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • In April 2020, in an interview with Phoebe Waller-Bridge on his show The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Stephen Colbert told her that he thought the fox that appeared in her series Fleabag was the Hound of Heaven, which appeared to astound and delight Waller-Bridge.[17][18][19]


  1. ^ Thomson, John (1912). Francis Thompson, the Preston-Born Poet, with Notes on Some of His Works. Read Books. ISBN 978-1-4086-6531-2.
  2. ^ Garth, John (2011). Tolkien and the Great War. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0007119530.
  3. ^ O'Conor, John Francis Xavier (1912). A Study of Francis Thompson's Hound of Heaven. John Lane Company. p. 7.
  4. ^ See also the Maryhill Museum of Art's website.
  5. ^ Chen, Jim. Poetic Justice, 29 Cardozo Law Review (2007)
  6. ^ Barry Alfonso, The Billboard Guide to Contemporary Christian Music Watson-Guptil Publications (2002) ISBN 0-8230-7718-7
  7. ^ Sarah Boxer, Charles M. Schulz, 'Peanuts' Creator, Dies at 77 The New York Times – On This Day (February 14, 2000)
  8. ^ Oren, Harman (2011). The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393339994.
  9. ^ "Songs of My Heart: The Hound of Heaven". Retrieved 2013-07-31.
  10. ^ Silva, Kamala (1964). The Flawless Mirror. Kamala. ISBN 978-1565890541.
  11. ^ du Maurier, Daphne, Rebecca, 2003, London, Virago Press
  12. ^ Stott, John, Why I am a Christian, 2003, Inter-Varsity Press
  13. ^ Stoljar, Jeremy, "The Australian Book of Great Trials" 2011, Murdoch Books Australia
  14. ^ Kristen Powers, Fox News' Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower, Oct. 22, 2013, Christianity Today
  15. ^ Bruen, "The Guards" (NY: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2001), p. 108.
  16. ^ Gurvin, Olav (1962). Fartein Valen: En banebryter i norsk musikk. Harald Lyche & Co's musikkforlag. pp. 134–136.
  17. ^ Colbert, Stephen. "Colbert's Meaning of The Fox - Fleabag". YouTube. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  18. ^ Chitwood, Adam (April 17, 2020). "Watch: Stephen Colbert Stuns Phoebe Waller-Bridge with His Interpretation of the 'Fleabag' Fox". Collider.
  19. ^ Ricci, Kimberly (April 17, 2020). "Stephen Colbert's Theory About The 'Fleabag' Fox Leaves Phoebe Waller-Bridge 'Completely Blown Away'". Uproxx.

External links[edit]