Dream of Gerontius
by John Henry Newman
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Edward Elgar set Newman’s dramatic poem to music as an oratorio in 1900. This
oratorio, in fact, became the most popular choral work in Britain after Handel’s Messiah.
The poem itself tells the story of an old man and his soul’s entrance into purgatory after
death. Because of its deeply theological and supernatural content, some have compared
the poem to the works of Dante. Like Dante’s works, Newman’s poem does not sacrifice
narrative suspense and ingenuity for depth of thought, instead retaining both. Because of
its masterful portrayal of a person’s confrontation with death, “The Dream of Geronitus”
transcends its Catholic roots and appeals to readers of all cultures and faiths.