The Hound of Heaven, and its influence on Edward Burne-Jones

Currently on the Tube there is a poster campaign running for a new thriller (by, I think, Lisa Gardner) – which runs “If you thought the woman sitting next to you was scary …”, accompanied by a picture of someone I take to be the author.  She actually looks like a Human Resources Manager about to deliver a presentation on the Importance of Continuous Improvement, which, I would agree, is likely to be a lowering experience.

The poster also says of the book “it’ll do your head in”.   I’m used to books that promise to make it impossible to sleep at night – others that are so funny that they make it impossible to travel on public transport.  This one, it seems, will drive the reader insane.

Such dramatic reactions to books are not an entirely new phenomenon.  A couple of weeks ago I picked up – from Market Harborough’s Sunday antique market- an edition of Francis Thompson’s 1909 monograph on Shelley.

Thompson is best known today, I imagine, as the author of the cricket-poem At Lord’s  (if he is known at all), but in his day his greatest hit was probably his devotional The Hound of Heaven. One illustrious reader’s reaction to this is described among the reviews –

“The winter’s labour [writes Lady Burne-Jones of her Husband in the year 1893] was cheered by the appearance of a small volume of poems by an author whose name was till then unknown to us.  The little book moved him to admiration and hope ; and speaking of the poem he liked best in it, he said “Since Gabriel’s ‘Blessed Damozel’ no mystical words have so touched me as ‘The Hound of Heaven’.  Shall I ever forget how I undressed and dressed again, and had to undress again – a thing I most hate – because I could think of nothing else?” – Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones.

Another review – from The Times – states –

“It is not too early to say that people will still be learning it by heart two hundred years hence, for it has about it the unique thing that makes for immortality.” 

This must, I think, have been written by some ancestor of Mystic Mogg, as I fear that – even a hundred years later – very few of us could recite it by heart.  Shall I have a go?

The Hound of Heaven is a Heavenly Hound / And when he barks it’s a Heavenly sound! …”

No, I don’t think it goes like that at all – it goes like this: – Hound of Heaven. –  n.b., before clicking, be prepared to spend the rest of the day dressing and undressing.

(I also note that the Wikipedia entry for this poem states –

“Monty Python’s famous skit, “The Cat of Heaven” was writtten after Graham Chapman read the poem one afternoon while sitting on the toilet”.

I don’t think I remember this sketch, and I frankly doubt the veracity of the statement.)

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2 thoughts on “The Hound of Heaven, and its influence on Edward Burne-Jones

  1. A propos of Hounds of Heaven, did you know that the Dominican order of monks get their name from ‘domini canes’ ie. Hounds of the Lord?

    (I will read the poem later on the grounds that I am about to enjoy some tea and cake and therefore have no time available for dressing and undressing)

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