As Marsha and I were unpacking a box of keepsakes recently I came upon a poem my brother Kevin had given me in 1974: The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson.
The Jesuit, JFX O’Conor, describes the poem like this: “The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.”
Kevin’s gift found a home with me.
Here’s the story:
My brother was an exceptionally talented guy. He was an autodidact with an amazing inventory of skills. He could learn new musical instruments with ease, do impersonations, sing, tell stories, write, and invent games, to name just a few. He had an animated personality that drew everyone close.
Kevin was a trained actor and a self-taught playwright. He wrote, produced and performed in A Rose For Danny, a wonderful play based on an incident in the life of our grandfather, Jack McCoy.
Kevin was five years younger than I, and that age difference set us apart as kids. It wasn’t until I returned to Seattle as an adult that Kevin and I discovered each other. It was St. Patrick’s Day 1974 and I had arrived just in time for the party my brothers hosted each year. It was a wild affair where booze flowed freely, the music was loud and strangers became instant friends. I got right with the program: I drank, I sang, I danced, and all to excess. I woke the next morning on a lawn chair in the backyard with Kev handing me a cup of coffee.
At the time I felt beaten. My work was really hard, I was going through a painful divorce, and it felt like life was having its way with me. I beat back the blues with booze. My thirst was large and blackouts had become common. Kevin could see his big brother was in very tough shape. We sat on our lawn chairs and shared with one another the stories of our lives. It was as if we were raised in different families; he knew nothing of my world nor I his, and yet we were connected to the same root system.
Kevin’s pain growing up in a fatherless household had been intense, and yet where I had anesthetized my pain Kevin seemed more willing to feel his and to laugh at himself. For me, such exposure was unthinkable. I hid behind a mask of enlightenment. Indeed, our daylong conversation exposed my counterfeit spirit, more style than substance. I talked a good game, but when all was said and done couldn’t walk the walk without my friend John Barleycorn.
At some point Kevin went to his room and returned with a book of poetry. He said, “Pat, you’ve gotta read this. It’s all about you and me.” He then read out loud The Hound of Heaven.
If it’s possible for poetry to change a man’s life that poem changed mine, not immediately, but in subsequent years. As a young man I imagined myself master of my world, daring to live on the cutting edge of history. My spirituality resided mostly in my head. So when my external world collapsed, my internal self collapsed as well, leaving me in a state of hopelessness and despair.
As the poem worked on me over the years, I slowly changed from
- pursuer to pursued,
- hound to hare.
I changed my direction in life, come face to face with heaven’s hound, and finally surrendered. In my way, I became rightly related to God.
Kevin had no idea of the seed planted in me. The Hound of Heaven is glorious to the ears. Below, I share Richard Burton’s recording of this masterpiece. Thank you, Kevin.
Just a thought…
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