Francis Thompson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
It is said that a vision of the poet Chatterton appeared to Francis Thompson late in his life, and kept him from suicide.
In the long hours of fear, rejection and longing, one must recall one’s saints:
“He saved up his farthings till he could buy a dose of laudanum, and went one night to his old bed in the rubbish heap in Covent Garden Market — the night that was to be his last on earth. He had already begun to drink the poison, when he felt the touch of a hand, and looking up he saw a vision of Poet Chatterton, who commanded him to drink no more. Then, remembering that another day of patience would have brought relief to Chatterton he determined to fight against the dim powers.”
Let me tell you about the fascinating life of this man. Francis Thompson.
Francis Thompson was a drug addict. He was an opium addict. Tried to get into Oxford University, I think, seven or eight times, and they turned him down. They turned him down, not because he didn’t have the mind, but because he was so hooked in his addiction.
Thompson used to wear a dirty raincoat and pick up newspapers from the dust bins of London.
And he would walk through the area of the losers and the lost which was Charing Cross.
He would pick up newspapers and write letters to editors, and the editors would say: “A genius greater than Milton is among us, but we do not have a return address for him.”
It was Thompson of course who wrote all this. He wrote the most brilliant editorials, the most brilliant poetry, but the editors could not get back to him.
In the daytime, he would find a way to sate his drug addiction; at night time, he would sleep by the River Thames. At night, he would go and lie by the River Thames with all of those who were also going through the agony of substance abuse, trying to cover himself from the cold, with a raincoat amongst the homeless as it were.
Once he picked up the Judeo-Christian bible and read the story of Jacob, a conman who screwed with his brother Esau, of whom he was envious of. The Judeo-Christian bible described Jacob as a man who had, “a taste for game.” And he cheated his own brother out of his birthright. He spent the rest of his life running away from his God, the God of the Jews. And finally, in a dream, he wrestled with this God. And in the end, there, he found redemption from this God in the bible of the Jews and the Christians.
So Francis Thompson was reading this, the story of Jacob. (Can you picture him, stumblers, lying by the bridge surrounded by the murky river under a dark desolate sky, shivering in the cold?)
After which, then he wrote a brilliant masterpiece of a poem:
O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air–
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!–
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places–
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry–and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!
Also, he wrote of love for the Poppy, which he dedicated to a certain Monica —
Love, love! your flower of withered dream
In leavèd rhyme lies safe, I deem,
Sheltered and shut in a nook of rhyme,
From the reaper man, and his reaper Time.
Love! I fall into the claws of Time:
But lasts within a leavèd rhyme
All that the world of me esteems —
My withered dreams, my withered dreams.
I have no more words for this man, other than to think him beautiful.