‘Envoy’ by Francis Thompson (Dedicated to the Christians of Iraq)

The following poem by Francis Thompson – Envoy – expresses a deep sense of the momentariness of so much of our experience, and of the drawing on old remembered joys in order to sustain us during periods of great grief and travail. The sufferings of Christians in the Middle East – what they have experienced and witnessed, and the daily uncertainty of their lives, moving from one place to another in the hope that they may have finally found refuge from the murderous rampage of the Islamic State – is however, something that is barely fathomable for most of us here in the West.

We can though all know something of that process by which, in times of darkness, we are able to draw sustenance from past happiness, and, to the extent to which this may allow us to better empathise (albeit only in small part) with those persecuted brethren in Iraq, we may use those connections that our shared humanity affords us to enter more deeply into our prayers that they be delivered, and that strength may be given them to endure their trials. Furthermore, as Christians, we are united to those who suffer at an even deeper level, united by the grief of the Cross, but also by the glory of the Resurrection, which is our hope, and the light by which we know Tomorrow.

Let us pray that whatever stony ways they face, however filled with sorrow their days may be now, that the Christians of Iraq may know blessedness in their hearts, be strengthened by the Cross of Christ, and the life they have with Him now that, as it has love for its foundation, cannot end. I pray that their earthly deliverance may come, but also that their faith may strengthen them until that time arrives, in the knowledge that all our lives are but hid with Christ in God, alongside whom the holy martyrs of that land stand in glory:


Go, songs, for ended is our brief, sweet play;

Go, children of swift joy and tardy sorrow:

And some are sung, and that was yesterday,

And some unsung, and that may be to-morrow.


Go forth; and if it be o’er stony way,

Old joy can lend what newer grief must borrow:

And it was sweet, and that was yesterday,

And sweet is sweet, though purchas-ed with sorrow.


Go, songs, and come not back from your far way:

And if men ask you why ye smile and sorrow,

Tell them ye grieve, for your hearts know To-day,

Tell them ye smile, for your eyes know To-morrow.


8 thoughts on “‘Envoy’ by Francis Thompson (Dedicated to the Christians of Iraq)

  1. Oh, this was absolutely beautiful Michael! What great intuition and insight you possess in your analysis!
    Francis Thomson’s poignant words expressed so vividly in this poem, could well be sung and prayed by our deeply suffering Christians brothers in Iraq. These persecuted martyred people are following so closely in the footsteps of Our Lord. Yes – may we remain united to them in their Via Crucis through our shared faith and love of God in His Holy Church.
    Thank you so much for this.

    • Thank you Kathleen for your very kind comment – it is much appreciated, and I am glad that the poem touched a chord with you as well. When I read the poem, it seemed to me too that this could be sung or prayed by those travelling in a time of trial, and immediately made me think of those Christians in Iraq sustained only by their faith and their closeness with Jesus in their suffering.

      I share your prayer too that we may remain united to them in the Via Crucis of Our Lord, and that the holy martyrs that have already gone to Him may pray for us, that we keep our eyes on our true end and true home.

      • Before falling into bed I felt I had to answer your lovely words here.

        The horrendous images and news filtering through to us of the suffering of the faithful Christians in Iraq causes me (as you know) a constant ache in my heart. I cannot even imagine how great their cross must be, with little hope for them in this precarious life that their suffering will ever end. Beheadings, crucifixions, the violent raping of women, torture, burnings of their homes and churches, exile… the list of barbarities is endless. How can anyone ‘fortunate’ to come out of this living hell alive ever recover from witnessing such atrocities?

        Only their trust in God’s love and proximity to them in this time of such great sorrow could, as you say, sustain and console them now… and “the glory of the Resurrection, which is our hope, and the light by which we know Tomorrow.”

        • It really is horrendous isn’t it, and thinking about not only deepens my sense of sorrow for the Christians undergoing these persecutions, but also my anger towards our ‘leaders’ in the West. They know perfectly well what is going on, no doubt know more than we do, but did nothing for ages, and now only do so because it was starting to look bad. And as for the media, after a brief period where they had to mention it was mainly Christians being attacked by ISIS (just because the oversight was so glaring) they have now gone back going out of their way to avoid mentioning it -utterly ridiculous, and really makes me angry, especially when one considers the horrors that these people have gone through.

          But, whilst our leaders and media are sustained by feelings of power and self-righteousness, those Christians that suffer in Iraq are sustained, as you say, by a much greater power, and one which will endure long after various regimes and social orders have passed away.

          • Yes, “horrendous” it certainly is… and the fact that the violent murders and persecutions of the Iraqui Christians are continuing unabated makes the feeble efforts of our spineless, cowardly western leaders to intervene (that were no more than show) even more ridiculous. They really don’t care Michael – that’s the problem! Even the few that might be Christian themselves in name, don’t give a d**n about the massacre of Christians so far away. They enjoy drawing their large salaries that enable them to enjoy their cushy hedonistic lives, making their ineffectual speeches about this and that, but wash their hands of really getting involved in stirring things up to help these afflicted people.

            Perhaps they should recall the now well-known quote of Martin Niemöller’s: “First they came for the Jew and I said nothing, etc.” ending “and then they came for me, and there was nobody left to speak for me.” (Quoting from memory)

            • This is very true – they really don’t care, and are much more concerned with perpetuating a secular ‘humanist’ agenda that allows them to live how they wish without consequence (at least, superficially). That this agenda is not only self-serving and ineffectual, but ultimately destructive of all that is good in Western (i.e.; Christian) culture is obvious to everyone but them, and the quote from Martin Niemoller that you cited is very appropriate – for the intellegentsia, it is always seems that the terrible consquences of their inaction have to come knocking on their own door before they are willing to wake up to what their indulgence has allowed (and often helped) to occur elsewhere.

              This, for me, is one of the hardest of Christ’s commands – to love and pray for those who are essentially our enemies and/or persecute us and others in the Body of Christ. Yet pray for them and forgive them we must, as it is the only way of preventing that natural anger we feel in response to their inaction etc to get a hold on us, and also, they are certainly not going to pray for themselves to change!

              • You are quite right that we should not let our natural anger at this outrage get the better of us. I should try to calm down and trust in Our Lord’s Divine Will more, for He would not allow anything to happen to His beloved ones that would go unrewarded. For all we know, perhaps the blood of these martyrs is serving to bring the necessary graces to make others repent of their wicked sins, or faith to unbelievers. Their sacrifice will not be in vain.
                Thank you for reminding me of the duty we all have to pray for our “enemies”… I needed that at this time! 😉

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