A line by line explanation of the poem The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson.
In these lines, the speaker is expressing his dissatisfaction with the natural world (represented by “Nature”) and his yearning for something more. He imagines Nature as a stepmother who cannot satisfy his thirst, no matter how much he drinks from her.
He then asks Nature to reveal her true self to him by dropping her “blue bosom-veil of sky” and showing him the “breasts of her tenderness.” He longs for a nurturing and satisfying experience that he has never found in the natural world.
The speaker then turns his attention to the pursuit of the “Hound of Heaven,” who is chasing him with “majestic instancy” (i.e., with determined urgency). The speaker describes the chase as “unperturbed,” suggesting that the Hound’s pursuit is unwavering and unstoppable.
As the chase draws nearer, the speaker hears a voice that warns him that nothing in the world can satisfy him if he does not first find satisfaction in God. The voice says, “’Lo! Naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.’”
In line 111, the speaker is waiting for the “love’s uplifted stroke” of God, which suggests that he is waiting for some kind of divine intervention or breakthrough in his life. The image of being “naked” emphasizes the speaker’s vulnerability and helplessness before God.
Lines 112-114 suggest that God has been gradually stripping away the speaker’s defences and breaking down his resistance to divine love. The metaphor of the speaker’s “harness” being “hewn” suggests that he has been forced to relinquish his former self-protective measures, and the image of being “smitten” to his knee emphasizes his complete submission to God’s will.
Lines 118- 119 : ..I shook . . . Upon me: Perhaps an allusion to the Samson story in the Bible (Judges 16).
Line 120 : His youth stands “amid the dust o’ the mounded years.” The happiness he sought in the things of the world has eluded him.
Lines 122-123 use the metaphor of smoke and bursts of light to convey the fleeting nature of the speaker’s days. The word “crackled” suggests the suddenness with which time has passed.
Lines 124, 125 suggest that even the speaker’s ability to dream has failed him. The “lute” and the “lutanist” represent the speaker’s creative abilities, which also seem to have failed. The dreamer cannot dream, and the lute player (lutenist or lutanist) cannot play.
Lines 126-128 suggest that the speaker’s fantasies, which once gave him pleasure and a sense of control over the world, are no longer effective. The metaphor of the “cords” suggests that the speaker’s efforts to control his life are insufficient to bear the weight of his grief. His days pass swiftly when he swings “the earth a trinket at my wrist”.
..Amaranthine: Undying, everlasting. Derivation: amaranth, a flower that legend says never fades.
..char . . . Limn: Must You burn the wood so that You can draw with it? In other words, must I suffer before You can work with me?
In these lines, the speaker describes the state of his heart and mind after he has exhausted all his energy and resources in trying to escape from God’s pursuit. The phrase “My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust” suggests that the speaker’s vitality, creativity, and innocence have all been wasted and lost, leaving him feeling drained and empty. The speaker’s heart is a broken fountain, where tears from his sad and despairing thoughts collect and stagnate.
The “sighful branches” indicate withered and decaying branches, which are unable to produce any positive or life-giving ideas.The speaker then questions the purpose of his suffering by asking “Such is; what is to be?” This suggests that he is unsure about the outcome of his struggles and the meaning behind his pain.
Line 142 : …The pulp . . . Rind: The world, earthly life, has tasted bitter. What will eternity be like? The last lines suggest that despite the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the speaker’s situation, he occasionally hears a trumpet sound from the “hid battlements of Eternity.” This could represent a glimmer of hope or a reminder of God’s presence and power.
The mist that obscures the speaker’s view of this eternity is sometimes shaken, revealing glimpses of its turrets before the mist returns and hides them again. This could symbolize the speaker’s occasional moments of insight or enlightenment, which are quickly obscured by his doubts and fears.
In line 149-150, the speaker acknowledges that he has seen the figure of God, who is described as being draped in dark, royal purple robes and wearing a crown of cypress branches. (Referring to Jesus Christ). The speaker knows the name of God and the message conveyed by his trumpet, which is likely a reference to the biblical notion of the final judgment. The speaker then questions whether the harvest of a person’s heart or life must be fertilized by death and decay.
The speaker then hears a voice that is described as being like a bursting sea, which laments the state of the earth and asks whether it has been shattered into fragments. These lines suggest that the pursuit of the human soul by God is relentless, and that the speaker is beginning to realize the futility of trying to escape it.
A loud voice asks the speaker whether he has earned the love of another human. He is a “strange, piteous, futile thing” that is unworthy of love. The speaker points out that no one but God cares about the soul, and that human love is reserved for those who deserve it.
The soul is asked how it has merited anything, given that it is made of the “clotted clay” of humanity and is therefore unworthy of love. The speaker concludes by saying that the soul can only find love with God, as no one else would care for it.
Overall, these lines suggest that the human soul is inherently flawed and unworthy of love, except for the love of God. The speaker is attempting to convince the soul to abandon its futile attempts to find love and instead turn to God, who is the only one who truly cares about it.
In line 171, the speaker (here, God) acknowledges that everything the person has lost or given up was not taken from him to punish him, but rather to encourage him to seek God’s embrace. God explains that what He took from the speaker—the pleasures that led him in the wrong direction—was not intended to hurt him but to help him find his way to the right path. The happiness that he thinks he lost, God says, is not lost but “stored for thee at home.”
In line 177, the speaker hears a footfall and wonders if it is God’s hand reaching out to comfort him in his despair.
In lines 180-182, the speaker recognizes that he has been blind to the love and guidance of God and has driven away the very thing he was seeking. God tells him that the happiness he sought by running away was following him all the time.
Overall, these lines suggest that God is always present and waiting to welcome us back into His embrace, even if we have strayed from Him in the past. The poem encourages us to turn towards God and trust in His love and mercy.