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and money spent on training the long delayed reckoning with a considerate father came at last. The father accepted the son's account of himself and then set him to work for a surgical instrument maker. He worked for a fortnight and was discharged. At a final interview the son's demeanour suggested that he had been drinking (he was taking opium) and this was another cause for silence. He denied drinking and so his father was still further mystified. Finally, leaving a despairing note behind for his sister, Francis sold all but a few of his books, and fled to London. An uncle said of both sister and father that they were reserved and thought poetry a snare. Francis remarks in his notebook, "What does one want with a tongue when one has silence?" There is no wonder there was silence and yet it was quite true that Francis, who did not want to leave home, who still wanted to be under parental supervision, slammed the door more tightly when he went out.
The derelict years followed. The weekly allowance came from his father, but at last after Francis failed to go to the address to which it was sent, the money ceased. The poet starving could yet not bring himself to go for the money that would at least have fed him. He lived with poverty in its most appalling shapes-a frequenter of the poorest lodging houses, sleeping on the Embankment, holding horses' heads in the Strand and selling matches. Between the time of his despatch of a poem to Meynell's magazine and his receipt of an acknowledgment a year elapsed. It was during that year the young prostitute gave him food and a bed at night out of the pity of her heart. In the darkest hour of his despondency he went to Covent Garden with enough laudanum to kill himself. When half of it had been taken he had a vision of Chatterton standing by him and forbidding him to drink any more. He then remembered Chatterton's untimely suicide, and the fact that had the young poet lived he would have had help the following day. Thompson lived and by a strange coincidence the next day he saw the poem, sent a year before, printed in the Merry England magazine.
Meynell after difficulties tracked him down, and the ensuing friendship with the Meynell family lasted until his death. There was a period of abstention from opium, and this period coincided with the productivity of his genius, the poems that secured his fame. In these years, when his genius could command the patience and tolerance of those who recognized in him a great poet, there are certain aspects of his life to notice: the companionship of the Meynell children, especially the sisters to whom he wrote "Sister Songs"; the reverent love he poured out to Alice Meynell; the kindred spirit that he found in Coventry Patmore,
whose "crested and prevailing" name, as he calls it, stands as a dedication to one of his volumes.
But in these years the past is repeated, only that editors were patient and forgiving of his delays and broken promises, and friends who loved him bore in silence the forgotten trysts because of his suffering and the song. As in early years, he could wax wroth over writers and their articles if he hotly disagreed, but his remarks were written in a notebook and destroyed. As he himself said, "He had never killed a fly." His material welfare was in the watchful care of his friends: clothes, money and food they regulated.
His muse withdrew during the last few years and laudanum became a necessity. The last weeks were spent near Scawen Blunt's home in Sussex, where he became more and more silent, sinking into semiconsciousness, his mind gone, but his need for laudanum incessant. One day in the garden a wasp stung him and his wrist was bandaged. He called the wasp "a drunken brute" and asked that it should be killed. His swollen wrist was a source of great interest and solicitude to him. Later he was removed to a London Nursing Home and died quietly alone in November, 1907. His toy theatre, his notebooks, and his poems were all he left behind him.
The finest poems written by Francis Thompson may be grouped roughly according to three main themes:
1. Those in which the poet orientates himself to Deity or some natural object of power and wonder. Such poems would include, for example, "The Hound of Heaven," "The Ode to the Setting Sun," "The Sinking Sun."
2. Those in which nature, earth and women are synonymous terms; for example, "From the Night of Forebeing," "The Mistress of Vision," the "Assumpta Maria."
3. Those in which children, flowers and song are equivalents; for example, "The Sister Songs," poems on the "Poppy," "The Making of Viola."
"The Hound of Heaven," Thompson's most widely known poem, may be taken as typical of Thompson's attitude towards Deity. The poet is in flight "down the nights and down the days"-"through the arches of the years," from the Divine Pursuer. This Pursuer is the God who smites and despoils. The poet says:
Naked I wait Thy Love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me.
The pursued is an unmeriting, futile thing, "of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot." He tries to shield himself from the pursuer by escape to nature, to children, to phantasies, but the strong feet follow, follow after. He is caught and capitulates at last to hear the divine voice of love saying:
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:
The smiter, the despoiler, the tremendous Lover, the Father are one. The ultimate embrace is between father and child within the eternal home.
In the "Ode to the Setting Sun" he says:
I know not what strange passion bows my head
In the "Orient Ode" we may link together the Divine Pursuer of "The Hound of Heaven" with the Sun. He calls the Sun
A Divine assaulter, art thou come!
and the pursuit theme is clearer;
Thou as a lion roar'st, O Sun,
Since the hunt o' the world began,
With love that trembleth, fear that loveth,
It is the terrible hunt of which Thompson is most aware, the God that smites, that demands sacrifice.
For all can feel the God that smites,
Having indicated briefly the dominant attitude in this first group of poems I would pass to the cycle of poems, "A Narrow Vessel," in the second group because of continuity of theme. There is the same allegory -the same pursuit the same demand for surrender of strongholdsthe apprehension of the final capitulation. "The Narrow Vessel” is a girl who is not great enough for the love that would be given her. The poem opens upon a girl's anger at the gift of a lock of hair to her lover, anger because it means the ultimate surrender. The theme reiterates
"The Hound of Heaven" and the poet's surrender to the Pursuer, of one stronghold after the other. She says:
With him, each favour that I do
In the "Ode to the English Martyrs" he writes:
How sweeter than bee-haunted dells
The blosmy blood of martyrs smells!
Who did upon the scaffold's bed,
The ceremonial steel between you, wed
With God's grave proxy, high and reverent Death;
The Bridegroom's arm, and that long kiss
That kissed away your breath, and claimed you His.
The erotic motive of the chase, the Pursuer under the guise of God, the Sun, and reverent Death is unmistakable. The poet is the pursued, the sufferer, the maker of sacrifice.
In "Laus Amara Doloris" he finds the mirrored image of the Goddess Pain "in his own confronting eyes." He, as she, has not spared his heart's children to the sacred knife. The requiring eyes demand each song.
Ah, count, O world, my cost,
Ah, count, O world, thy gain,
In awful secrecy to hear
The wind of thy great treading sweep afresh
Thompson's poems are the sacrifices, the utter abnegation that "sums in one all renderings that were." And in these lines we also can sum up the "renderings that were": mother and wife of her child, the maid of her virginity, the child of the mother's breast. Implicit in the yielding up of his songs, lie all these other renderings.
Med. Psych, v
To come to more perfect expression of his femininity one might turn
to the triumphant verses of the "Assumpta Maria”:
I, the flesh-girt Paradises
That he, the poet, is Mary the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, we find many confirmations-as for example when he refers to the poet himself as
...that conduit running wine of song.
To the importunate and thronging feet
Till, all containing, he exalt
His stature to the stars, or stars
Narrow their heaven to his fleshly vault.
The recurrence of the "thronging feet that follow after" is noticeable as is his exaltation to the stars, or stars that take upon themselves the lowly human form.
Having established the poet's identification of himself with woman, one is led next to the fact that there are two types of women, under varying guises with whom Thompson is at one. We might call them the Pagan and Christian types.
It is the strength of the erotic motive underlying this feminine aspect of his soul that tortured Thompson. "Poetry that finds no room under the wings of the Holy One, finds it under the webs of the Evil One." From this quotation from the Shelley Essay it seems as though Thompson's rejection as a priest were linked with some deep disquiet in connection with poetry.
Thompson as the Pagan Goddess, and the theme of the "love-banning love" is plain in the poem "Daphne":
The river-god's daughter, the sun-god sought her,
With the breath in her hair of the keen Apollo,
Risen out of birth's waters the soul distraught errs,
She throes in his arms to a poet, woe's me!
A love-banning love, did the god but know it,