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The Kingdom of God
By Francis Thompson (1859-1907)
“In no strange land”
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-splendoured 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 Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!

Commentary by Corinna Laughlin
Francis Thompson was a remarkable figure by any measure. Born in 1859, he was compared to Keats and Shakespeare in his lifetime, and although his reputation declined after his death, many of his poems, in particular his masterpiece, “The Hound of Heaven,” have never gone out of print.
Thompson was raised in a devoutly Catholic family. His family hoped he would be a priest, and he was sent to a minor seminary, but he was awkward and shy and was deemed unsuitable. He was sent to study medicine, a subject for which he had no vocation and little interest. He was too timid to tell his family that he wanted to be a writer—all they wanted to talk about was “cricket” and “wars,” he later said—and things began to go downhill for Thompson. After an illness, Thompson became addicted to opium. Things got so bad that Thompson ended up on the streets. He was homeless in London for three years and could only be reached by general delivery to the “Post Office, Charing Cross, London.”
It was poetry that eventually pulled him back from the brink. All this time, Thompson had continued to write. He submitted some poems to a Catholic editor, Wilfrid Meynell, which were published. When Meynell met the author, and realized that he was totally destitute, he and his wife Alice helped Thompson get off the streets and (at least for a time) overcome his addiction.
Thanks to the Meynell’s intervention and support, Thompson became a writer—though never a prolific one. He wrote essays and reviews for various journals, and he continued to write poetry as well, eventually publishing three books.  At the same time, he was never what you might call “normal.” He would suddenly get up from the table and disappear at mealtimes, and a friend wrote that “No money... could keep him in a decent suit of clothes for long. ...He passed at once into a picturesque nondescript garb that was all his own and made him resemble some weird pedlar or packman.”
In spite of all the darkness Thompson had experienced in his life, and his repeated bouts with depression, his faith was ultimately full of hope.  “I do firmly believe that none are lost who have not wilfully closed their eyes to the known light: that such as fall with constant striving, battling with their temperament, or through ill-training circumstance which shuts them from true light, &c.; that all these shall taste of God's justice, which for them is better than man's mercy.”
Thompson died of tuberculosis on November 13, 1907 at the age of 48.
The poem we’re reading today, “The Kingdom of God,” was one of Thompson’s last poems, not published until after his death. The poem begins with a series of paradoxical assertions – we see the invisible, we touch the intangible, we know the unknowable, we take hold of the “inapprehensible.” We have access to the world of the spirit. It is not far away--we do not need to look to the stars to find God. In fact, we need not go elsewhere to seek God any more than the fish needs to search for the water or the eagle the air. In other words, God comes to us in our own element—God is our element. 
The divine is close—if we were listening, we could hear the wings of angels beating at our “clay-shuttered doors.” But with our “estranged faces”—not looking for God—we don’t see “the many-splendored thing.”
Nevertheless, God is everywhere, accessible to all who call upon him. At the end of the poem, Thompson alludes to his own experiences on the streets of London. In the depths of sadness, he says, “cry,” and there will be Jacob’s ladder, linking heaven and Charing Cross. Ask for help, and Christ will walk on the water, not far away on the Sea of Galilee, but nearby: on the Thames.
In this poem, Thompson’s very Catholic imagination is at work. As Catholics, we firmly believe that we can touch the invisible through the tangible—anointed with oil, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit; bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. Thompson reminds us that the divine presence is everywhere. The poem reflects the words of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” The kingdom of God unfolds in our own circumstances, in our own place and time. We just need the eyes to recognize it.



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