Francis Thompson: Ex Ore Infantium

As we reflect today on the Octave of the Nativity (i.e.; Jesus’ circumcision – the first recorded event of his infancy after his birth) and also celebrate Mary’s motherhood of Jesus, I thought it may be worthwhile to focus on the childhood of Jesus as a whole. This period of His life is one that lacks detail and so has led to an enormous amount of hypothesising, some thought provoking and edifying, some mildly interesting, some downright scandalous (and usually deliberately so). In the following poem, Ex Ore Infantium (Out of the Mouths of Babes), Francis Thompson contemplates what it may have been like for the Son of God to be a human child whilst still having continuous access to and remembrance of the face of His heavenly Father. There are also lines that refer to the tender relationship between Mary and Jesus, reminding us of how closely our Blessed Mother’s life was united to Jesus’ from the very first.

The imagery is deliberately commonplace and familiar, to draw us into consideration of how closely Christ’s childhood may have resembled our own, despite the heavenly wisdom He was privy to. In doing so, Thompson achieves the remarkable feat of both intensifying the sense of difference between Christ and us, whilst simultaneously creating a very real sense of His solidarity with humankind and the human experience. He then appeals, on the basis of this shared experience, to Jesus to intercede for us, reminding us of the basis for the confidence with which we can ‘draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16):

 

Little Jesus, wast Thou shy

Once, and just so small as I?

And what did it feel like to be

Out of Heaven, and just like me?

Didst Thou sometimes think of THERE,

And ask where all the angels were?

I should think that I would cry

For my house all made of sky;

I would look about the air,

And wonder where my angels were;

And at waking ‘twould distress me–

Not an angel there to dress me!

 

Hadst Thou ever any toys,

Like us little girls and boys?

And didst Thou play in Heaven with all

The angels that were not too tall,

With stars for marbles? Did the things

Play Can you see me? through their wings?

And did Thy Mother let Thee spoil

Thy robes, with playing on OUR soil?

How nice to have them always new

In Heaven, because ’twas quite clean blue!

 

Didst Thou kneel at night to pray,

And didst Thou join Thy hands, this way?

And did they tire sometimes, being young,

And make the prayer seem very long?

And dost Thou like it best, that we

Should join our hands to pray to Thee?

I used to think, before I knew,

The prayer not said unless we do.

And did Thy Mother at the night

Kiss Thee, and fold the clothes in right?

And didst Thou feel quite good in bed,

Kissed, and sweet, and thy prayers said?

 

Thou canst not have forgotten all

That it feels like to be small:

And Thou know’st I cannot pray

To Thee in my father’s way–

When Thou wast so little, say,

Couldst Thou talk Thy Father’s way?–

So, a little Child, come down

And hear a child’s tongue like Thy own;

Take me by the hand and walk,

And listen to my baby-talk.

To Thy Father show my prayer

(He will look, Thou art so fair),

And say: ‘O Father, I, Thy Son,

Bring the prayer of a little one.’

 

And He will smile, that children’s tongue

Has not changed since Thou wast young!

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