On a cold winter’s night in 1887, the churchwarden of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, John McMaster, gave an impoverished young match seller a room at his shop in Panton Street, which is just behind the National Gallery. The match seller was also an opium addict named Francis Thompson, who many know as a visionary Roman Catholic poet and ascetic. After being further rescued from himself, Thompson’s first book of poetry was published in 1893. He became an invalid and after years of extreme poverty and addiction, he died in 1907 of tuberculosis, at the still young age 47. His tomb bears the last line from one of his own poems: Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven.
This is his poem ‘The Kingdom of God’.
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 rumour 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!
by Francis Thompson (1859 – 1907)