The Dream of Gerontius (poem)

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The Dream of Gerontius is a poem written by John Henry Newman (February 21, 1801 – August 11, 1890) consisting of the prayer of a dying man, and angelic and demonic responses. The poem, written after Newman's switch from being a priest in the Church of England to Roman Catholicism,[1] explores his new Catholic-held beliefs of the journey from death through Purgatory. The poem follows the main character as he nears death and then reawakens as a soul, preparing for judgment. This poem follows the most important event any human can experience: death.[2]

Newman said that the poem "was written by accident – and it was published by accident." He wrote it up in fair copy from fifty-two scraps of paper between 17 January and 7 February 1865 and published it in May and June of the same year, in two parts in the Jesuit periodical The Month.[3] The poem inspired a choral work of the same name by Edward Elgar in 1900.

The poem was largely inspired by the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, a great allegorical depiction of Dante's travels through the realms of the dead.

Newman's character, too, dreams of the worlds that may await him after his death. He dreams that he is guided by an angel toward God, but then warned of the pain that may accompany the beatific vision: "For one moment thou shalt see thy Lord,/ One moment; but thou knowest not, my child,/ What thou dost ask; that sight of the Most Fair/ Will gladden thee, but it will pierce thee too."

With the protective presence of this angel, Gerontius passes safely by the demons who are looking to gather souls for hell.

But, as the angel had hinted, Gerontius' soul is pained by the sight of God, and he begs to be sent away, to spend time in purgatory.

He begs to be taken to the "lowest deep" until he is properly prepared to look at God, "and see Him in the truth of everlasting day."

The poem ends with the angel's assurance that that day will come, "Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here, And I will come and wake thee on the morrow."


The poem is divided into seven individual "phases", and is Newman's longest written poem. The seven phases are: 1.Gerontius, 2. Sould of Gerontius, 3. Soul, 4. Soul, 5. no title, 6. Angel, 7. Angel.[4] The first phase includes a prayer in Latin, in which the main character, Gerontius, begs God for mercy.


  1. ^ Ellison, Professor Robert H. "John Henry Newman: A Brief Biography". 
  2. ^ Peter Kreeft (2013). "The Dream of Gerontius: Review". In The Portsmouth Institute. Newman and the intellectual tradition: Portsmouth Review [2010]. Lanham, Md.: Rowman et Littlefield Publ. p. 54. ISBN 9781580512480. 
  3. ^ Banfield, Stephen, "The Dream of Gerontius at 100: Elgar's Other Opera?", The Musical Times, Vol. 141, No. 1873 (Winter 2000), pp. 23–31
  4. ^ Juan, R; Vélez, G (2001). "Newman's Theology in the Dream of Gerontius" (PDF). New Blackfriars 82 (967): 387–398. 

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