Sunday 21 January 2018

Poetry: Junkie poet who rivalled Wordsworth

Francis Thompson
Francis Thompson

Ulick O'Connor

Francis Thompson was a junkie poet whose best-known poem is 'The Hound of Heaven' in which he has described how he was rescued from his drug habit by an unrelenting God. He also wrote what many think is the best poem about cricket, 'At Lords', which rolls out like a modern film cut.

"The run stealers flicker to and fro to and fro

O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago long ago"

In his twenties, Francis finally kicked his drug habit with help from that marvellous poetess Alice Meynell, who considered herself as his minder whenever he would feel like reaching for a fix.

Chesterton wrote on Thompson's death: "We have lost the greatest poetic energy since Browning".

And Coventry Patmore thought the 'Hound of Heaven', "One of the few great odes in the language".

Here is a poem he wrote about a young girl he met in the Sussex hills which, I dare to say, rivals Wordsworth's 'Daffodils'.


Where the thistle lifts a purple crown

Six foot out of the turf,

And the hareball shakes on the windy hill-

O the breath of the distant surf!-

The hills look over on the South,

And southward dreams the sea;

And, with the sea-breeze hand in hand,

Came innocence and she.

She listened with big lipped surprise,

Breast-deep 'mid flower and spine:

Her skin was like a grape, whose veins

Run snow instead of wine.

Oh, there were flowers in Storrington

On the turf and on the spray;

But the sweetest flower on Sussex hills

Was the Daisy-flower that day!

Francis Thompson


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