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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For others with this name, see Francis Thompson (disambiguation).
Francis Thompson
Born 16 December 1859 (1859-12-16)
Preston, Lancashire
Died 13 November 1907 (1907-11-14)
Nationality English

Francis Thompson (16 December 1859 – 13 November 1907) was an English poet and ascetic. After attending college, he moved to London to become a writer, but in menial work, became addicted to opium, and was a street vagrant for years. A married couple read his poetry and rescued him, publishing his first book, Poems in 1893. Francis Thompson lived as an unbalanced invalid in Wales and at Storrington, but wrote three books of poetry, with other works and essays, before dying of tuberculosis in 1907.


Life and work

Born in Preston, Lancashire, his father Charles[1] was a doctor who had converted to Roman Catholicism, following his brother Edward Healy Thompson, a friend of Cardinal Manning.

Thompson was educated at Ushaw College, near Durham, and then studied medicine at Owens College in Manchester. He took no real interest in his studies and never practised as a doctor, moving instead to London to try and become a writer. Here he was reduced to selling matches and newspapers for a living.

During this time, he became addicted to opium, which he first had taken as a remedy for ill health. Thompson came to London in 1885 and lived a life of destitution until in 1888 he was 'discovered' after he sent poetry to the magazine Merrie England. He was sought out by the editors of 'Merrie England', Wilfrid and Alice Meynell and rescued from the verge of starvation and self-destruction. Recognizing the value of his work, the couple gave him a home and arranged for publication of his first book, Poems in 1893. The book attracted the attention of sympathetic critics in the St James's Gazette and other newspapers, and Coventry Patmore wrote a eulogistic notice in the Fortnightly Review of January 1894.

Subsequently Thompson lived as an invalid in Wales and at Storrington. A lifetime of extreme poverty, ill-health, and an addiction to opium took a heavy toll on Thompson, even though he found success in his last years. Thompson attempted suicide in his nadir of despair, but was saved from completing the action through a vision which he believed to be that of a youthful poet, Chatterton, who had committed suicide almost a century earlier. Shortly afterwards, a prostitute - whose identity Thompson never revealed - befriended him, gave him lodgings and shared her income with him. Thompson was later to describe her in his poetry as his saviour. She soon disappeared, however, never to return. He would eventually die from tuberculosis, at the age of 48.

His most famous poem, The Hound of Heaven [2] describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. This poem is 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.[3] A phrase in his The Kingdom of God [4] is the source of the title of Han Suyin's novel and the movie Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. In addition, Thompson wrote the most famous cricket poem, the nostalgic At Lord's. He also wrote Sister Songs (1895), New Poems (1897), and a posthumously published essay, "Shelley" (1909). He wrote a treatise On Health and Holiness, dealing with the ascetic life, which was published in 1905.

Francis Thompson's grave is in St.Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery in London.


Among Thompson's devotees was the young J.R.R. Tolkien, who purchased a volume of Thompson's works in 1913-1914, and later said that it was an important influence on his own writing.[5] The American novelist Madeleine L'Engle used a line from the poem "The Mistress of Vision" as the title of her last Vicki Austin novel, Troubling a Star.


  1. ^ Thomson, John (1912). Francis Thompson, the Preston-Born Poet, with Notes on Some of His Works. Read Books. ISBN 9781408665312. 
  2. ^ The Hound of Heaven at
  3. ^ Jim Chen, Poetic Justice, 29 Cardozo Law Review (2007)
  4. ^ The Kingdom of God at Poets' Corner
  5. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, p. 29n. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984.
  • Il Segugio del Cielo e altre poesie, cura e traduzione di Maura Del Serra, Pistoia, Editrice C.R.T., 2000


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

File:Francis Thompson.jpg
Thou canst not stir a flower / Without troubling of a star.

Francis Thompson (December 18, 1859November 13, 1907) was an English poet.



  • The hills look over on the South,
    And Southward dreams the sea;
    And with the sea-breeze hand in hand,
    Came innocence and she.
  • The fairest things have fleetest end,
    Their scent survives their close:
    But the rose's scent is bitterness
    To him that loved the rose.
  • Nothing begins, and nothing ends,
    That is not paid with moan,
    For we are born in other's pain,
    And perish in our own.
  • Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven.
    • To My Godchild (this line is inscribed on Thompson's gravestone)
  • Thou canst not stir a flower / Without troubling of a star.
    • The Mistress of Vision (1913).
  • The innocent moon, that nothing does but shine,
    Moves all the labouring surges of the world.
  • Short arm needs man to reach to Heaven,
    So ready is Heaven to stoop to him.
  • Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of today. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its soul.
    • Shelley. In the Dublin Review (July 1908)

The Hound of Heaven (1893)

  • I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
    I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
    I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
    I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
    • St. 1
  • But with unhurrying chase,
    And unperturbéd pace,
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
    They beat—and a Voice beat
    More instant than the Feet—
    "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
    • St. 1
  • Across the margent of the world I fled,
    And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
    Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars:
    Fretted to dulcet jars
    And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
    • St. 2
  • I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon.
    • St. 2
  • 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.
    • St. 4
  • 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.
    • St. 5

The Kingdom of God (1913)

  • O world invisible, we view thee,
    O world intangible, we touch thee,
    O world unknowable, we know thee,
    Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
    • St. 1
  • The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
    Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
    • St. 3
  • The angels keep their ancient places;—
    Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
    ‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estrangèd faces,
    That miss the many-splendoured thing.
    • St. 4
  • Upon thy so sore loss
    Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
    Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
    • St. 5


  • I fear to love you, Sweet, because
    Love’s the ambassador of loss.
    • To Olivia.
  • Little Jesus, wast Thou shy
    Once, and just so small as I?
    And what did it feel to be
    Out of Heaven and just like me?
    • Ex Ore Infantum.

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Francis Thompson
by William Henry Davies
Information about this edition
From Foliage (1913)

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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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FRANCIS THOMPSON (1860-1907), English poet, was born at Ashton, Lancashire, in 1860. His father, a doctor, became a convert to Roman Catholicism, following his brother Edward Healy Thompson, a friend of Manning. The boy was accordingly educated at Ushaw College, near Durham, and subsequently studied medicine at Owens College, Manchester; but he took no real interest in the profession of a doctor and was bent on literary production. A period of friendlessness and failure (from the point of view of "practical life") followed, in which he became a solitary creature who yet turned his visions of beauty into unrecognized verse. It was not till 1893 that, after some five obscure years, in which he was brought to the lowest depths of destitution and ill health, his poetic genius became known to the public. Through his sending a poem to the magazine Merrie England, he was sought out by Mr and Mrs Wilfrid Meynell and rescued from the verge of starvation and self-destruction, and these friends of his own communion, recognizing the value of his work, gave him a home and procured the publication of his first volume of Poems (1893). His debt to Mrs Meynell was repaid by some of his finest verse. The volume quickly attracted the attention of sympathetic critics, in the St James's Gazette and other quarters, and Coventry Patmore wrote a eulogistic notice in the Fortnightly Review (Jan. 1894). An ardent Roman Catholic, much of Francis Thompson's verse reminded the critics of Crashaw, but the beauty and splendid though often strange inventiveness of his diction were immediately recognized as giving him a place by himself among contemporary poets, recalling Keats and Shelley rather than any of his own day. Persistent ill health limited his literary output, but Sister Songs (1895) and New Poems (1897) confirmed the opinion formed of his remarkable gifts. But his health was hopelessly broken down by tuberculosis. Cared for by the friends already mentioned, he lived a frail existence, chiefly at the Capuchin monastery at Tanlasapt, and later at Storrington; and on the 13th of November 1907 he died in London. He had done a little prose journalism, and in 1905 published a treatise on Health and Holiness, dealing with the ascetic life; but it is with his three volumes of poems that his name will be connected. Among his work there is a certain amount which can justly be called eccentric or unusual, especially in his usage of poetically compounded neologisms; but nothing can be purer or more simply beautiful than "The Daisy," nothing more intimate and reverent than his poems about children, of more magnificent than "The Hound of Heaven." For glory of inspiration and natural magnificence of utterance he is unique among the poets of his time. (H. CH.)

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