Title Thumbnail

The Dream of Gerontius

281 pages
Library of Alexandria
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 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" 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, 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," the holy God might save it.