Monday 19 February 2018

Verse that hits you for six

Red rose: AN Hornby
Red rose: AN Hornby

Ulick O'Connor

Francis Thompson is well known among the poets of the 1890s along with Oscar Wilde and Lord Tennyson.

He was the naughty boy among them who regularly took opium and other drugs. A fervent Catholic, he regarded his habit as a means of expressing his spiritual feelings.

These habits, however, led to him becoming homeless, sleeping under the London bridges at night.

When he was off the 'junk', he wrote magnificent poetry. His 'Hound of Heaven' is a recognised masterpiece. It describes how God chased him for his loss of faith and wouldn't give up until he had returned to Him.

Incredibly, one of Thompson's best poems is about cricket. He was addicted to it and thought that in that English game he could find a special peace.

Here is a verse from it (it is quite long really) where he reminisces about watching his beloved Lancashire, the red rose county, and their iconic batting partnership of Dick Barlow and A N Hornby.

Note the last four lines. For me, they evoke the actual sound of cricket and the white figures begin to appear in front of the eyes.


It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,

Though my own red roses there may blow;

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,

Though the red roses crest the caps, I know.

For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast,

And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,

And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host

As the run stealers flicker to and fro,

To and fro:

O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!

Francis Thompson 1859-1907

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