How frequently these words of Christ from St. Matthew’s gospel come to mind, so often repeated by our beloved Pope St. John Paul II: “Be not afraid”! The power of these three words bring both reassurance and hope, remembered as they are in the times we need them. Christ, who was walking on water towards the frightened disciples said these words, “It is I!” Likewise with this comforting poem of Blessed John Henry Newman, echoing the same words. The poem is aptly named, “Consolation,” which reminds us of that peace which passeth all understanding. The first stanza, with an a,b,a,b rhyme scheme along with regular metered lines, iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter, adds to the soothing sound of the poem.
“It is I; be not afraid.”
WHEN I sink down in gloom or fear,
Hope blighted or delay’d,
Thy whisper, Lord, my heart shall cheer,
“‘Tis I; be not afraid!”
The first stanza speaks to the universal experience of all humans, living as we do in a fallen world, and that is a feeling of gloom or sadness, which sometimes comes upon us seemingly from nowhere; likewise, an irrational fear may spring up, especially when we waken in the middle of the night … seized with a bewitching anxiety. At these moments, hope may seem to be “blighted,” that is, frustrated or slow in coming, that is, “delay’d.” But then the reassurance: “Be not afraid,” a whisper from our Lord, will cheer our hearts.
The second stanza with a c,d,c,d rhyme scheme and the same regular metered lines as the first stanza, continues with these human experiences which have the capacity for making us fearful:
Or, startled at some sudden blow,
If fretful thoughts I feel,
“Fear not, it is but I!” shall flow,
As balm my wound to heal.
Almost without warning, when we are perhaps tired or otherwise vulnerable, a fretful thought, or sublimated fear, will pop up into our consciousness, almost like a physical blow. But then, the whisper comes again, the healing balm of Christ’s words wash over us: “Fear not! It is I!”
And in the third stanza, also with regular rhyme and meter, is the bold assertion that these very words from Christ will bring us strength, no matter the foe or challenge we may meet:
Nor will I quit Thy way, though foes
Some onward pass defend;
From each rough voice the watchword goes,
“Be not afraid! … a friend!”
In the final stanza comes the most important reassurance of all, the cause of our hope and joy, and that is the victory over that final “blow,” death; even the thought of death should bring neither gloom nor fear, for we only sleep, and will awake to that same familiar voice which has been whispered to us throughout our days: “Tis Christ!”
And oh! when judgment’s trumpet clear
Awakes me from the grave,
Still in its echo may I hear,
“‘Tis Christ; He comes to save.”
At Sea. June 23, 1833.
It is fitting to conclude this reflection on Blessed Newman’s poem, “Consolation,” with these words of Pope Saint John Paul II: “I plead with you, never, ever give up hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid!”