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THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS ***




Produced by Andrew Sly, Christopher Wright, Al Haines and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
http://www.pgdp.net






[Illustration: JOHN HENRY NEWMAN

From a drawing by G. Richmond in the possession of H. E. Wilberforce,
Esq. [By permission.]]

THE
DREAM OF GERONTIUS

BY
CARDINAL NEWMAN


_WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES_
BY
MAURICE FRANCIS EGAN, A.M., LL.D.

_Professor of English Language and Literature in the Catholic
University of America, Washington, D. C._


LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
FOURTH AVENUE & 30TH STREET, NEW YORK
LONDON, BOMBAY AND CALCUTTA
1910


Copyright, 1903,

BY

LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.


_All rights reserved_


First edition, September 30, 1903;
Reprinted, with additions, September, 1904; August, 1908;
February, 1910.




FRATRI DESIDERATISSIMO

JOANNI JOSEPH GORDON

ORATORII S.P.N. PRESBYTERO

CUJUS ANIMA IN REFRIGERIUM

J. H. N.

_In die Comm._

_Omn. Fid. Def._

1865




INTRODUCTION


As a rule, when Cardinal Newman's poetry is mentioned, people think
of "The Pillar of the Cloud," better known as "Lead, Kindly Light."
This lyric is only one of the many beautiful poems written by an
author whose fame as a writer of the finest modern prose in the
English language has eclipsed his reputation as a poet. Nevertheless,
he wrote a very great poem, "The Dream of Gerontius" - a poem which
the intellectual world admires more and more every year, and which
yields its best only after careful study and consideration. It has
been described as a metrical meditation on death. It is more than
that; it is the realization by means of a loving heart and a poetic
imagination of the state of a just soul after death, - Gerontius
typifying not the soul of a particular person imagined by Cardinal
Newman, but your soul, my soul, any soul which may be fortunate
enough to satisfy the judging and merciful God. No poet has ever
presented the condition of the soul, as made known by the theology of
the Catholic Church, so forcibly and appealingly as Cardinal Newman.
The poem is filled with intense white light, and the soul on earth
sees itself as it will be at the moment before its death; as it will
be when, strengthened by the last sacraments and upborne by the
prayers of its friends, it approaches the bar of judgment. Separated
from the body until the day of the Resurrection, when it shall be
united to that glorified body, it is not sundered by death from the
love of those who have loved it on earth. Gerontius about to be
judged feels that he must fail

"And drop from out the universal frame
Into that shapeless, scopeless, blank abyss,
That utter nothingness"

from which the soul came, and, in its depths of fear, it pleads
silently that its friends in Christ may pray for it. The dread of
annihilation is upon it; it fears "the great deep"[1] to which it
goes. And, in the agony of its rending from the beloved body, it
thinks - for it can no longer speak - of the horror of nothingness. All
its physical supports are gone. Its eyes are darkening and glazing;
its feet motionless and cold; its arms and hands rigid. To those in
the sick-room the body once so beautiful,

"from the graced decorum of the hair
Ev'n to the tingling sweet
Soles of the simple, earth-confiding feet,"[2]

is now white as white marble and as lifeless. But the soul is not
dead, though the earthly parts of the body appear to be, and it
hears the prayers of the Church for the dying as the supreme moment
of its departure from the body is at hand. Some of these prayers,
translated from the Latin, the author puts into the mouths of the
assistants. They have all the refreshing strength that the Church
gives; they represent the supplication of millions of devout souls
bound to this dying brother in the communion of saints. The soul
gains new strength from these prayers; it arouses itself; sees God
through the ruin of the world, and wills to be wholly His. The
assistants by the bedside redouble their supplications in the sacred
words of the Litany for the Dying, which Cardinal Newman again
interprets in English verse, though the Litany is in the Latin
tongue. Again, the soul gains strength for a moment, and calls, in
the universal speech of the Church, for strength, and that, "out of
the depths,"[3] the holy God might save it. Then it uses its will to
believe, and within itself asserts the creed of the Church, which is
musically interpreted by the poet:

"Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One,
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son."

The moment of agony, the moment of the realization of the soul that
it is alone, bereft of its support, is terrible but short. In the
"Inferno" of Dante, with all its objective horrors, there are no
lines so terrible as these, which show the spirit naked, wild with
horror and dismay:

"And worse and worse,
Some bodily form of ill
Floats on the wind, with many a loathsome curse
Tainting the hallowed air, and laughs and flaps
Its hideous wings."

We can imagine the scene in the room in which Gerontius is dying. The
priest, in his surplice and violet stole, has sprinkled the chamber
and the persons present with holy water, using the form of the cross,
and has said the _Asperges_:

"Thou shall sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: Thou
shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow."

Gerontius has kissed the crucifix, and it is still before him. In the
glow of the lighted candle the "Litany for the Dying" is recited by
the priest and the "assistants," that is to say, all in the room who
will pray. The passing of the soul may not have occupied a second, as
we reckon time, and yet, as "The Dream of Gerontius" suggests, the
soul, sensitive and vital, may live through what might seem to be a
hundred years. As soon as it appears that the soul has departed, the
priest says:

"Subvenite, Sancti Dei, occurrite Angeli Domini, Suscipientes animam
ejus, Offerentes eam in conspectu Altissimi."[4]

This prayer dwells last in the ears of Gerontius. He has slept for a
moment, refreshed by the Church, and he awakes to find himself free.

"I had a dream; yes: some one softly said
'He's gone,' and then a sigh went round the room,
And then I surely heard a priestly voice
Cry 'Subvenite,' and they knelt in prayer."[5]

The soul, borne forward on its way to the Judge, hears the song of
its Guardian Angel, whose work is done. As the soul proceeds, the
voices of the demons are heard; they express the pride of those who
defy God. They cry out:

"Virtue and vice,
A knave's pretence,
'Tis all the same."

The soul wonders why it cannot move hand or foot, and the angel says:

"Nor hast thou now extension, with its parts
Correlative, - long habit cozens thee, -
Nor power to move thyself, nor limbs to move."

So infinitesimal has the time been since the soul left the body that
the "Subvenite" is not yet finished when the soul is at the very
throne of Judgment:

"I hear the voices that I left on earth."

The angel answers:

"It is the voice of friends around thy bed
Who say the 'Subvenite' with the priest."

The angel of the Agony supplicates for the soul, as for its brother,
and then the eager spirit darts forward alone to the feet of God.
Gerontius is judged; he passes lovingly to Purgatory. His Guardian
Angel says:

"And ye great powers,
Angels of Purgatory, receive from me
My charge, a precious soul, until the day
When, from all bond and forfeiture released,
I shall reclaim it for the courts of light."

Waiting until he shall enter into the full glory of the Lord,
Gerontius is left by the poet. This soul knows now what it did not
know on earth, - what the real happiness of Heaven is; "it measures
the distance which separates itself from this happiness. It
understands how infinite this distance is, through its own fault. It
suffers terribly. Its sorrow grows with its love, as it loves God
more and more with all the fibres of its being; it is drawn by vital
and mighty bonds towards the object of its love, but each bond is
broken by the weight of its faults, which like a mass of lead hold it
down."[6]

There can be no question as to the correspondence of the teaching of
Cardinal Newman with the theology of the Catholic Church. Dante is
put by Raphael, in the famous picture, the Disputà, among the Doctors
of the Church, and the author of "The Dream of Gerontius" would have
merited a similar honor even if he had never been created[7] a
Cardinal.

For advanced students interested in the study of literature a
comparative reading of "The Dream of Gerontius" with the "Purgatorio"
of Dante, Book III, Milton's "Paradise Lost," Rossetti's "The Blessed
Damosel," and Tennyson's "In Memoriam" would be very interesting and
profitable, provided this is done always with reference to the exact
teaching of the Church. For exalted purity, for terseness and beauty
of expression, for musical cadences, "The Dream of Gerontius" stands
first among the few great poems that depict the life after death. "In
Memoriam" is made up of human yearnings, of faith, of doubt. It never
passes beyond "the bar" of death. Milton's "Paradise" is one of
angels rather than men, and Rossetti's poem is only a reflection of
earth. In Dante's "Purgatorio" the splendor seems to be so great that
the appeal to the individual heart is lost, but the oftener we read
"The Dream of Gerontius," the more its power and beauty and peace
grow upon us.

The story of General Charles George Gordon, "Chinese Gordon," one of
the heroes of the nineteenth century, has passed into history, and
every enthusiastic boy or girl ought to know it by heart. Gordon was
the type of the valiant soldier who carried the love and fear of God
everywhere. He, besieged by pagan hordes, died, in 1884, the death of
a martyr to duty. This man was only one of those who found
consolation in "The Dream of Gerontius" at the very hour of death.
General Gordon's copy of the poem - a small duodecimo - was presented
to the late Mr. Frank Power, correspondent of the London _Times_. The
latter sent it home to his sister in Dublin. Deep pencil-marks had
been drawn under lines all bearing on death and prayer. For instance:
"Pray for me, O my friends"; "'Tis death, O loving friends, your
prayers, - 'tis he"; "So pray for me, my friends, who have not
strength to pray"; "Use well the interval"; "Prepare to meet thy
God"; "Now that the hour is come, my fear is fled." Later Power met
the fate of a hero. The last words that Gordon underlined before he
gave him the book were:

"Farewell, but not forever, brother dear;
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow."

The metre in "The Dream of Gerontius" changes with the thought, and
it is always appropriate to it. The solemn movement of the opening
lines gives the typical music, which is varied lyrically. As an
example of exquisite musical variety on a firm basis of unity the
poem is admirable. The level of "Lead, Kindly Light" is reached many
times in the expression of the highest faith and love, and in musical
quality the famous hymn is even surpassed by

"Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be."

Why Cardinal Newman should have presented the experience of a soul
after death as a "dream" we can imagine from his habitual caution in
dealing with all subjects of importance. He has the boldness of
neither Dante nor Milton, and he will not present the poetical
experience of a man, at such a vitally sacred moment, as an actual
fact; he is too reverential for that, and he calls it a "Dream." In a
letter written in answer to an inquiry as to the meaning of the lines
in "The Pillar of the Cloud,"

"And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile," -

he says, quoting Keble, that poets are "not bound to be critics or to
give a sense to what they had written,"[8] and he adds that "there
must be a statute of limitations, or it would be quite a tyranny, if
in an art which is the expression not of truth but of imagination and
sentiment, one were obliged to stand an examination on the transient
state of mind which came upon one when homesick, or seasick, or in
any other way sensitive or excited."

It is well to take a great poem like this without too much inquiry or
analysis. If the author's intention is not evident in his poem,
either he has failed to be clear, or he is consciously obscure, or we
are incapable of appreciating his work. The first and second defects
do not appear in "The Dream of Gerontius." The third, let us trust,
does not exist in us. The notes, few in number, are intended to
explain only what is not obvious.

In his "Recollections" Aubrey De Vere says: "'The Dream of
Gerontius,' as Newman informed me, owed its preservation to an
accident. He had written it on a sudden impulse, put it aside and
forgotten it. The editor of a magazine" - it appeared in _The Month_,
of London, 1865, in two parts - "wrote to him asking for a
contribution. He looked into all his pigeon-holes and found nothing
theological; but, in answering his correspondent, he added that he
had come upon some verses which, if, as editor, he cared to have,
were at his command. The wise editor did care, and they were
published at once."

R. H. Hutton, writing of Cardinal Newman, speaks in this way of "The
Dream of Gerontius": "Before the Vatican disputes and shortly after
the controversy with Canon Kingsley, Newman had written a poem of
which he himself thought so little that it was, as I have heard,
consigned or doomed to the waste-basket.... Some friend who had an
eye for true poetry rescued it, and was the means, therefore, of
preserving to the world one of the most unique and original poems of
the present century, as well as that one of all of them which is, in
every sense, the least in sympathy with the temper of the present
century.... None of his writings engraves more vividly on his readers
the significance of the intensely practical convictions which shaped
his career. And especially it impresses on us one of the great
secrets of his influence. For Newman has been a sign to this
generation that unless there is a great deal of the loneliness of
death in life, there can hardly be much of the higher equanimity of
life in death. To my mind 'The Dream of Gerontius' is the poem of a
man to whom the vision of the Christian revelation has at all times
been more real, more potent to influence action, and more powerful to
preoccupy the imagination than all worldly interests put together."
(R. H. Hutton, "Cardinal Newman.")

The song of the soul in "The Dream of Gerontius" has sometimes been
compared with "The Pillar of the Cloud" - a sacred lyric which is a
household canticle wherever the English language is spoken. It is
often misquoted, a fourth stanza having been added to it. This is the
authorized version:

"Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home -
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene - one step enough for me.

"I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose my path, but now
Lead Thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.

"So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile."

In the "Apologia Pro Vita Sua" Dr. Newman wrote: "We" - Mr. Hurrell
Froude, brother of the historian James Anthony Froude, being the
other person - "set out in December 1832. It was during this
expedition that my verses which are in the 'Apostolica' were
written - a few, indeed, before it, but not more than one or two of
them after it. At Whitechurch, while waiting for the down mail to
Falmouth, I wrote the verses about 'My Guardian Angel' which begin
with these words:

"'Are these the tracks of some unearthly friend?'"

It must be remembered that John Henry Newman had not yet entered the
Catholic Church. It is strange that he should at this time have held
the belief in a ministering spirit which is so marked in "The Dream
of Gerontius."

In the sextette of this sonnet he says:

"Were I Christ's own, then fitly might I call
That vision real; for to the thoughtful mind
That walks with Him He half reveals His face;
But when on earth-stained souls such tokens fall,
These dare not claim as theirs what there they find,
Yet, not all hopeless, eye His boundless grace."

This vision, he says, "which haunted me, - the vision is more or less
brought out in the whole series of compositions." "Gerontius" itself
is more a "vision" than a "dream."

"The Pillar of the Cloud" was written in an orange-boat. "We were
becalmed a whole week in the Straits of Bonifaccio. Then it was," he
says in the "Apologia" - the finest model of modern English prose
extant - "that I wrote 'Lead, Kindly Light,' which has since become
well known. I was writing verses the whole time of my passage."

The "vision" of which he speaks he saw everywhere, and all his poems
seem, in one way or other, to contain hints of the great poem to
come; for there can be no doubt that "The Dream of Gerontius" is the
culmination of his poetical moods. One cannot open any of his prose
works without finding allusions to these eternal truths made so clear
through the processes of the soul of a normal old man, - our young
readers will please look up the derivation of Gerontius,[9] which is
from the Greek, - but it is in his poems that we discover easily the
germs of his poetical masterpiece. Even in the poems he loved we note
the constant dwelling on the main theme of "The Dream" - Eternity. In
1889 Cardinal Newman was very ill. During his convalescence he asked
that Faber's "Eternal Years"[A] should be sung to him with musical
accompaniment. He said that he would like to hear it when he came to
die. It is a poem of sixteen stanzas, to be found in Faber's "Hymns."
It begins:

"How shalt thou bear the cross that now
So dread a weight appears?
Keep quietly to God, and think
Upon the eternal years.

Austerity is little help,
Although it sometimes cheers;
Thine oil of gladness is the thought
Of the eternal years."

"Novissima hora est!" Gerontius exclaims, "and I fain would sleep."
He is thinking of the eternal hours and years in this last hour on
earth.

At sea, in June, 1833, Newman had written some verses called "Hora
Novissima":

"Whene'er goes forth Thy dread command,
And my last hour is nigh,
Lord, grant me in a Christian land,
As I was born, to die.

"I pray not, Lord, that friends may be,
Or kindred, standing by, -
Choice blessing! which I leave to Thee
To grant me or deny.

"But let my falling limbs beneath
My Mother's smile recline,
And prayers sustain my laboring breath
From out her sacred shrine.

"And let the cross beside my bed
In its dread presence rest;
And let the absolving words be said
To ease a laden breast.

"Thou, Lord, where'er we lie, canst aid;
But He who taught His own
To live as one, will not upbraid
The dread to die alone."

The death of Gerontius was Newman's ideal Christian death, and
Gerontius does not die alone; he is upborne, refreshed by the prayers
of his friends. Of Newman's sacred songs, "The Pillar of the Cloud"
is, as we know, put first by some critics. And yet for musical
diction, for sweetness and all the beauty of artistic technique, the
song of the soul in "The Dream" equals if not surpasses it.

"Take me away, and in the lowest deep,
There let me be,
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
Told out for me."

In "Verses on Various Occasions" there is the picture of the resigned
souls expecting the Blessed Vision. "Waiting for the Morning" was
written at Oxford, 1835. It begins:

"They are at rest;
We may not stir the heaven of their repose
With loud-voiced grief, or passionate request,
Or selfish plaints for those
Who in the mountain grots of Eden lie,
And hear the fourfold river as it passes by."

By "Eden" Newman symbolized the paradise - the resting-place of
souls - of the fourfold rivers. Here they patiently abide,

"And soothing sounds
Blend with the neighboring waters as they glide;
Posted along the haunted garden's bounds
Angelic forms abide,
Echoing as words of watch, o'er lawn and grove,
The verses of that hymn which seraphs chant above."

The fulness of higher meditation and knowledge is in the triumphant
song of the Soul, but "Waiting for the Morning" contains its
suggestion, just as "The Lady of Shalott" by Lord Tennyson contains
the germ of the exquisite "Elaine."

The dedication of "The Dream of Gerontius" reads, in English: "To the
Most Beloved Brother, John Joseph Gordon, Priest of the Order of St.
Philip de Neri, whose soul is in the Place of Refreshment.[10] All
Souls' Day, 1865."

The Rev. John Joseph Gordon, of the Oratory, was very dear to Newman,
and his death was a great blow to him. But of all the Oratorians,
the Cardinal especially loved Father Ambrose St. John, whose name he
accentuates on the last page of the "Apologia." Father St. John, who
was of the Gordon family, died in 1875, and Newman suffered what he
held to be his saddest bereavement. Ambrose St. John had been with
him at Littlemore. Writing to Mr. Dering of the death of Father
Ambrose St. John, he said: "I never had so great a loss. He had been
my life under God for twenty-two years." The dread of dying alone and
the deep affection for friends - an affection that reaches the throne
of God by prayer - tinge the whole structure of "The Dream." They are
part of Newman himself.

Cardinal Newman died at Edgbaston Oratory, August 11, 1890; he was
buried, at his own request, in the grave with Father Ambrose St.
John. "'The Dream of Gerontius' was composed in great grief after the
death of a dear friend."

A careful study of "The Dream of Gerontius" will show how musical
it is, and how delicately the music of the verse changes with the
themes. The form of poetry, as we know, approaches music. If a poem
is not musical in expression, its metres fail of producing the
effect they are intended to produce. So musical is "The Dream of
Gerontius" and so capable of being treated by the musicians, that
various composers suggested the making of an oratorio of it. Dr.
Elgar has done it. "An Ursuline," in _The Catholic World_, for
June, 1903, says: "Dr. Elgar, when a child, sat Sunday after
Sunday in the organ-loft of St. George's Roman Catholic Church,
Worcester, England, where his father had been organist for the long
period of thirty-seven years. Subtly the spirit of the grand old
church music was instilled into the boy." Of "The Dream" Dr. Elgar
said: "The poem has been soaking in my mind for at least eight
years. All that time I had been gradually assimilating the thoughts
of the author into my musical promptings." In 1889 a copy of the
poem, with the markings made by General Gordon, was presented to
Dr. Elgar as a wedding gift. The markings of the heroic and devout
Gordon especially interested him. The reading of this little book
helped to make Dr. Elgar's fame, which is based solely on his
masterpiece, the oratorio performed in London on June 6, 1903, in
Westminster Cathedral. Richard Strauss is looked on by musicians as
the master of what is called "tone-color" - a perfect harmony
between the tone of the instrument and the music arranged for it.
But the German and English critics declare that in "The Dream of
Gerontius" Dr. Elgar has surpassed Richard Strauss. "The Demons'
Chorus," says The _Pall Mall Gazette_, "may be regarded as one of
the last words of musical audacity." For the study of the music we
suggest Dr. Jaeger's Analysis, printed by Novello in London and New
York. Mr. Theodore Thomas, speaking of Dr. Elgar's "Dream of
Gerontius," said that it is the most important oratorio of recent
times, not excepting Brahms' Requiem. "'Gerontius,'" he added, "is


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