The Hounds of Heaven

Kerouac was especially affected by English poet Francis Thompson’s 182-line poem, “The Hound of Heaven” to the extent that he wanted to use the following lines as a preface to his poem, “Supreme Reality”:

For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.

Others before him were equally impressed, like John Francis Xavier O’Conor writing in his book-length study (A Study of Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”):

“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. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.”

Kerouac felt it was the most personal poem he had read of late; “that Thompson is expressing exactly what I express in different lines. Somehow, I feel I understand this poem more profoundly than anyone else.”

All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home

It was reminiscent of Wolfe; the “voice of loneliness” is the “hound of heaven” hunting our days of constant loss. For fear of truth, we must flee: “Aye, men have died from tenor of the mind!” says Lucretius (a line Kerouac lifts from his journal and uses in I Wish I Were You in August 1945).

It is the spirit returning, the flesh burning impalpably, lingering forever. The poem affected Kerouac to the degree that he wanted to incorporate it into a new symbolistic novel in 1945, after leaving the Nietzschean phase of his writing development (encapsulated in I Bid You Lose Me, progenitor of Galloway which is the prototype for The Town and the City).

The influence of “The Hound of Heaven” was prevalent for its time for many other writers used allusions/references to the poem in a number of works. For Kerouac, its influence is found all the way through to The Town and the City where its theme of loss and loneliness is personified in the character of Peter Martin. This “hound of heaven” felt in Martin’s life trials is carried down from his father, George Martin and on down to the youngest, Julian, who died in childhood. It is evident in the emotional development of Martin and his kin, veering away from The Brothers Karamazov-influence of character exploration through multiple siblings, and instead developing a “strictly anthropological triad in American terms.” The references to “The Hound of Heaven” in Kerouac’s journal are short-lived, but he took from the poem the aching satisfaction of like-mindedness in another’s poetic mindset and applied it for his own use.


Kerouac and Ginsberg’s living arrangement led to problems when a local bartender reported to the dean that Ginsberg was drinking alcohol every night. Ginsberg and Kerouac drank at the West End until well after 3 A.M. They returned to 360 Riverside Drive, near the scene of Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer and boarded with Burroughs who had just returned from St. Louis after being implicated in Carr’s crime.

Burroughs found Kerouac’s quest for Self-Ultimacy absurd, seeing no use for self-destruction as a means of achieving high art. Instead he recommended a “bang of morphine.” Burroughs helped administer Kerouac’s first bang, approximately 1/2 grain, that lasted approximately six hours. On it, Kerouac wrote poems:

“Straighten your limbs or you will not become an arrow for a flight along a parallel.”
Kerouac sat at Burroughs’s feet listening to his strange worldviews. He thought Burroughs to be the “authentic devil” whom seduces. Burroughs gave Kerouac another “voyage to morphina” on January 19, 1945 and from this experience Kerouac gathered notes dwelling on the use and misuse of Aristotle’s “Logos.”

A week later Kerouac composed a poem, “Song of Modern Sorrow,” morbidly poeticizing the city’s bleakness:

All is evil, all is retribution; and there

exists men who

find positive pleasure in exacting

blood taxation

from feeble anaemic hordes.

In his junk haze, the worst of humanity blotted out Kerouac’s cheer at the world, and so drinking alcohol stunned him back into dim acceptance.

On November 10, Kerouac was at Columbia University campus with Céline Young. Kerouac told her that there was no point to them being together. She smiled “secretly”:

“Unless, of course, the emotion overran the practical difficulties,” Kerouac suggested.
“It doesn’t.”
“It did for me for awhile.”

On Christmas 1944, Edie returned to Kerouac in New York. Afterward, they moved in with Joan Vollmer at a spacious five-bedroom flat at 419 West 115th Street. Vollmer, erring on thriftiness and wanting the most cash she could earn to split the rent, was refreshingly open-minded and non-judgmental. Tenants over time were Ginsberg, Hal Chase and Burroughs. It was here that Kerouac spent much of his time, languishing in an atmosphere where he could easily succumb to a cobra’s den of seductive temptations.


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