In 1893, English poet Francis Thompson published a poem called “The Hound of Heaven.” The work is an extended metaphor: as a hound pursues a hare in a hunt, so does God pursue the human soul to restore it to grace. The soul may dart and hide, but God’s love is persistent and unwavering:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
(Full text here)
The American painter Robert Hale Ives Gammell first read Thompson’s poem at the age of sixteen, and it became a lifelong obsession. Following a mental breakdown in the late 1930’s, he began a series of twenty-one paintings inspired by the poem; the sequence was first shown in 1956. In the exhibition catalog, Gammell explained that his paintings do not constitute a literal interpretation:
Eventually I decided that it would involve only a slight change in terminology to consider “The Hound of Heaven” as a history of the experience commonly called emotional breakdown rather than as the story of a specifically religious conversion. The change did not, it seemed to me, traduce the poet’s intention. It suggested, however, a construction capable of conveying the universality of his subject to many persons.