Saturday, December 18, 2010

A poetic life

English poet Francis Thompson was born December 18, 1859.

College-educated, he studied medicine but never practiced as a doctor, instead moving to London to become a writer. There he was reduced to selling matches and newspapers for a living.

He became addicted to opium, and lived a life of destitution until he was discovered in 1888 after sending poetry to the magazine Merrie England.

This was his letter to the editor of that magazine:

"Dear Sir,
In enclosing the accompanying article for your inspection, I must
ask pardon for the soiled state of the manuscript. It is due, not to
slovenliness, but to the strange places and circumstances under which
it has been written ... I enclose a stamped envelope for a reply...regarding your judgement of its worthlessness as quite final...
Apologizing very sincerely for my intrusion on your valuable time,
I remain,

Yours with little hope,
Francis Thompson
Kindly address your rejection to the Charing Cross Post Office.

Thompson lived as an invalid in England and Wales. He once attempted suicide, but was saved from going through with it by a vision he believed to be that of the poet Thomas Chatterton, who had committed suicide almost a century earlier.

Shortly afterwards, a prostitute befriended him, give him lodgings and shared her income with him. He described her in his poetry as his saviour. One day she disappeared, however.

He died from tuberculosis at the age of 48.

Here is a poem by Thompson:

Nothing begins and nothing ends
That is not paid with moan
For we are born in other's pain
And perish in our own.