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Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By John Henry Newman (1801–1890)

The Elements

A Tragic Chorus

  MAN 1 is permitted much
      To scan and learn
      In Nature’s frame;
      Till he well-nigh can tame
    Brute mischiefs, and can touch        5
      Invisible things, and turn
  All warring ills to purposes of good.
    Thus as a God below
      He can control
    And harmonise what seems amiss to flow,        10
      As severed from the whole
  And dimly understood.
But o’er the elements
  One Hand alone
    One Hand has sway.        15
    What influence day by day
  In straiter belt prevents
    The impious Ocean, thrown
Alternate o’er the ever-sounding shore?
  Or who has eye to trace        20
    How the Plague came?
  Fore-run the doublings of the Tempest’s race?
    Or the Air’s weight and flame
On a set scale explore?
  Thus God has willed        25
  That man when fully skilled
    Still gropes in twilight dim;
  Encompassed all his hours
  By fearfullest powers
    Inflexible to him;        30
  That so he may discern
    His feebleness,
    And even for earth’s success
  To Him in wisdom turn,
Who holds for us the keys of either home,        35
Earth and the world to come.
Note 1. Most of Newman’s poems previous to the “Dream of Gerontius” were written on a voyage to the Mediterranean in 1833 in company with Hurrell Froude. They appeared under the title of “Lyra Apostolica” in the British Magazine with poems by Keble, Froude, and a few other writers, and were afterwards collected into a volume bearing the same name. An edition with an introduction by Canon H. S. Holland, and a critical note by the present editor, has appeared in the “Library of Devotion” (Methuen). One of the most beautiful of Newman’s poems, which is too personal to take its place in a “Lyra Sacra,” may be quoted here. It refers to the comfort he received when sick and weary at Palermo by frequenting the Roman churches.

      O that thy creed were sound!
For thou dost soothe the heart, thou Church of Rome,
  By thy unwearied watch and varied round
Of service, in thy Saviour’s holy home.
  I cannot walk the city’s sultry streets,
  But the wide porch invites to still retreats,
Where passion’s thirst is calmed, and care’s unthankful gloom.
  There on a foreign shore
The home-sick solitary finds a friend:
  Thoughts, prisoned long for lack of speech, outpour
Their tears; and doubts in resignation end.
  I almost fainted from the long delay
  That tangles me within this languid bay,
When comes a foe, my wounds with oil and wine to tend.