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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

After Death

By John Henry Newman (1801–1890)

From ‘The Dream of Gerontius’

I WENT to sleep, and now I am refreshed:

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!

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;

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.

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,

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 naught else to feed upon.

Am I alive or dead? I am not dead,

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

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,

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,

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

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?

Or am I traversing infinity

By endless subdivision, hurrying back

From finite towards infinitesimal,

Thus dying out of the expanded world?

Another marvel: some one has me fast

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

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.

Oh, what a heart-subduing melody!