After going over the new poems in the revised edition of The Catholic Anthology—and a satisfactory list they are, too—I turned to the “Hound of Heaven,” and I thought, as I read it over, of the first time I had heard it, recited almost entire by Eugene O'Neill, in the back room of an old-fashioned saloon (it was before prohibition) called the Golden Swan, a popular meeting place which used to be on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street.
O'Neill was hanging around New York waiting for something to be done about his first full-length plays which were in the hands of Broadway producers. As yet he had achieved no popular success, but his one-act plays were being produced with gusto by the Provincetown Players around the corner. In the interminable waiting which goes on around a theatre, there was a good deal of time spent in the old saloon. There was a sliding window in the back room which led to a restaurant, so that one could wine and dine there after a fashion.
O'Neill used to sit there, glum and dour, and one night the talk turned on Francis Thompson. O'Neill knew almost all of his great poem, and leaning on the table, he searched his memory for it, and in his rather gritty, monotonous voice, he recited it with emotion. Indeed there was such force in his reading of the lines—it was as though he were reading them on the table before him—that many of them were impressed on my mind, never to be forgotten.
He was about thirty then, I think, and it was with melancholy joy that he remembered first that part of the poem:
"In the rash lustihead of my young powers
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth, with heavy griefs so overplussed."
It is good to pass on poems to others. An Irishwoman had given me those of Saint Patrick which are in the Anthology, and I in turn had passed on Crashaw to a young Spanish radical whose saving grace is that she loves Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross; she in turn had presented me with translations of the two great Spanish saints.
When she dropped by this afternoon and laid hands on the Anthology, she began reading aloud about Don John of Austria, shouting exuberantly (it is a poem which makes you shout) of her love for Chesterton.
"He is truly Spanish," she assured us, paying him the highest compliment in her power.
This collection containing all these poems shall go on my special shelf with the "Little Flowers of Saint Francis," "Confessions of Saint Augustine," "Autobiography and Foundations of Saint Teresa," and the "Jesuit Relations."
Since the feast day of the new American saints, I've been reading and rereading the last-named book, and today in the "Anthology" I found a fitting foreword to those brave letters from the saints.
It is part of a poem of Crashaw on the Holy Name, and should, I think, be dedicated to Isaac Jogues, John Brébeuf and their companions who
". . . gave glorious chase
To persecutions, and against the face
Of death and fiercest dangers durst, with brave
And sober pace, march on to meet a grave!
On their bold breasts above the world they bore Thee,
And to the teeth of hell stood up to teach Thee,
In center of their inmost souls they wore Thee, Where
rack and torment strove in vain to reach Thee."
Aren't these fitting lines for those who died with the Holy Name on their lips?
[For more of Dorothy Day's writings from Commonweal, see our full collection.]