Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
The Dream of Gerontius (1865) (Selected passages).
I. The Soul of Gerontius
By John Henry Newman (1801–1890)
I WENT to sleep; and now I am refresh’d,
A strange refreshment: for I feel in me
An inexpressive lightness, and a sense
Of freedom, as I were at length myself,
And ne’er had been before. How still it is!        5
I hear no more the busy beat of time,
No, nor my fluttering breath, nor struggling pulse;
Nor does one moment differ from the next.
I had a dream; yes:—some one softly said
“He’s gone;” and then a sigh went round the room.        10
And then I surely heard a priestly voice
Cry “Subvenite;” and they knelt in prayer.
I seem to hear him still; but thin and low,
And fainter and more faint the accents come,
As at an ever-widening interval.        15
Ah! whence is this? What is this severance?
This silence pours a solitariness
Into the very essence of my soul;
And the deep rest, so soothing and so sweet,
Hath something too of sternness and of pain.        20
For it drives back my thoughts upon their spring
By a strange introversion, and perforce
I now begin to feed upon myself,
Because I have nought else to feed upon.
Am I alive or dead? I am not dead,        25
But in the body still; for I possess
A sort of confidence which clings to me,
That each particular organ holds its place
As heretofore, combining with the rest
Into one symmetry, that wraps me round,        30
And makes me man; and surely I could move,
Did I but will it, every part of me.
And yet I cannot to my sense bring home
By very trial, that I have the power.
’Tis strange; I cannot stir a hand or foot,        35
I cannot make my fingers or my lips
By mutual pressure witness each to each,
Nor by the eyelid’s instantaneous stroke
Assure myself I have a body still.
Nor do I know my very attitude,        40
Nor if I stand, or lie, or sit, or kneel.
So much I know, not knowing how I know,
That the vast universe, where I have dwelt,
Is quitting me, or I am quitting it.
Or I or it is rushing on the wings        45
Of light or lightning on an onward course,
And we e’en now are million miles apart.
Yet … is this peremptory severance
Wrought out in lengthening measurements of space,
Which grow and multiply by speed and time?        50
Or am I traversing infinity
By endless subdivision, hurrying back
From finite towards infinitesimal,
Thus dying out of the expansive world?
Another marvel: some one has me fast        55
Within his ample palm; ’tis not a grasp
Such as they use on earth, but all around
Over the surface of my subtle being,
As though I were a sphere, and capable
To be accosted thus, a uniform        60
And gentle pressure tells me I am not
Self-moving, but borne forward on my way.
And hark! I hear a singing; yet in sooth
I cannot of that music rightly say
Whether I hear, or touch, or taste the tones.        65
Oh, what a heart-subduing melody!
        My work is done,
          My task is o’er,
              And so I come,
              Taking it home,        70
        For the crown is won,
          For evermore.
        My Father gave
          In charge to me        75
              This child of earth
              E’en from its birth,
        To serve and save,
          And saved is he.        80
        This child of clay
          To me was given,
              To rear and train
              By sorrow and pain
        In the narrow way,        85
          From earth to heaven.
It is a member of that family
Of wondrous beings, who, ere the worlds were made,
Millions of ages back, have stood around        90
The throne of God:—he never has known sin;
But through those cycles all but infinite,
Has had a strong and pure celestial life,
And bore to gaze on the unveil’d face of God,
And drank from the everlasting Fount of truth,        95
And served Him with a keen ecstatic love
Hark! he begins again.
O Lord, how wonderful in depth and height,
    But most in man, how wonderful Thou art!
With what a love, what soft persuasive might        100
    Victorious o’er the stubborn fleshly heart,
  Thy tale complete of saints Thou dost provide,
    To fill the throne which angels lost through pride!
He lay a grovelling babe upon the ground,
    Polluted in the blood of his first sire,        105
With his whole essence shatter’d and unsound,
    And coil’d around his heart a demon dire,
  Which was not of his nature, but had skill
  To bind and form his op’ning mind to ill.
Then was I sent from heaven to set right        110
    The balance in his soul of truth and sin,
And I have waged a long relentless fight,
    Resolved that death-environ’d spirit to win,
  Which from its fallen state, when all was lost,
  Had been repurchased at so dread a cost.        115
Oh, what a shifting parti-colour’d scene
    Of hope and fear, of triumph and dismay,
Of recklessness and penitence, has been
    The history of that dreary, life-long fray!
  And oh, the grace to nerve him and to lead        120
  How patient, prompt, and lavish at his need!
O man, strange composite of heaven and earth!
    Majesty dwarf’d to baseness! fragrant flower
Running to poisonous seed! and seeming worth
    Cloking corruption! weakness mastering power!        125
  Who never art so near to crime and shame,
  As when thou hast achieved some deed of name;—
How should ethereal natures comprehend
    A thing made up of spirit and of clay,
Were we not task’d to nurse it and to tend,        130
    Link’d one to one throughout its mortal day?
  More than the Seraph in his height of place,
  The Angel-guardian knows and loves the ransom’d race.
Now know I surely that I am at length
    Out of the body; had I part with earth,        135
    I never could have drunk those accents in,
    And not have worshipp’d as a god the voice
    That was so musical; but now I am
    So whole of heart, so calm, so self-possess’d,
    With such a full content, and with a sense        140
    So apprehensive and discriminant,
    As no temptation can intoxicate.
    Nor have I even terror at the thought
    That I am clasp’d by such a saintliness.

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