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Music and poetry have been linked throughout history. The “lyrics” of music derive from the word “lyre,” the small harp used to accompany recited poetry both in the Old Testament with the Psalms, as well as throughout Greek antiquity since poets would recite epic verse accompanied by the lyre. The Greek poet would invoke the muse, or goddess, of epic poetry, before he began; he would pray to the muse so that he might recite his sacred verses well.  The word “muse” is where our word “music” comes from.  This connection between poetry and music is evident when one reads song lyrics, which are written in stanzas like a poem. The music of poetry refers to how a poem sounds, the rhythm, or meter of the poem. 

In the 19th century when St. John Henry Newman lived, a very common metaphor was for the poet to equate himself to a lyre or harp. The poet himself, then, would produce the music of poetry. The metaphor was used by Percy Shelley who requests in “ Ode to the West Wind,” “Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is”; and also by Lord Byron who wrote, “I wish to tune my quivering lyre, / To deeds of fame, and notes of fire.” This is the metaphor Newman used in the poem “Introduction To An Album.” The first line of the opening stanza states this plainly: 

“I AM a harp of many chords, and each

Strung by a separate hand;—most musical

My notes, discoursing with the mental sense,

Not the outward ear. Try them, they will reply

With wisdom, fancy, graceful gaiety,

Or ready wit, or happy sentiment.”

 Newman, in referring to himself as a harp, is also giving autobiographical hints in this poem. When his “strings” are sounded, they produce intimations of his inner life. The poem created by the poet is a joint interaction between the inner and outer aspects of the poet, a common element of 19th century poetry.  

The separate hand that strings the lyre in the second line is the hand of God. The poet is full of joy and wit, with a Christian sense of life. Newman invites others to “play” the strings, that is, to interact with him. He is writing as a young Anglican clergyman, twenty six years of age.

The poem’s last stanza is an invitation for others to join into this harp of Newman himself, and by their gifts, enrich him, as others have before contributed to the person he is now. 

     “Come, add a string to my assort of sounds;

Widen the compass of my harmony;

And join thyself in fellowship of name

With those, whose courteous labour and fair gifts

Have given me voice, and made me what I am.”

Brighton, April 1827.

Later, when the Tractarians used poetry to further the cause of the Oxford Movement, the name chosen for the didactic group of poems was “Lyra Apostolica.” The word “Apostolica” refers to the Apostles, Jesus’ disciples who taught Christ’s teachings. The effect Newman and the others wished to produce, through poetry, was a poetry of persuasion. This is evident in a letter from Newman to Frederic Rogers, an early supporter of the Oxford Movement. Newman wrote,  “Do not stirring times bring out poets? Do they not give opportunity for the rhetoric of poetry and the persuasion? And may we not at least produce the shadows of high things, if not the things themselves?” Instructing by delighting is what poetry does. The music of poetry can give “shadows of higher things” by participating in the universal harmony of an ordered universe. 

This teaching  was the Pythagorean view of music as a mathematical model of universal order along with the Platonic view of music as a branch of rhetoric, the two concepts which have interacted for over two millenia. Boethius, whose understanding of universal music, the music of the spheres, was taught in the quadrivium, explained that musica humana, human music or poetry, which reflects the universal music, involves the effects of these forms upon the hearer. 

What lesson can we glean from this short clever poem? Perhaps it is to realize that each one of us is an instrument of God, a musical instrument. We each have our own part to play in this symphony on earth. Let the music that sounds from us be that of harmony, in tune with God’s perfect plan. Our music should be such that others want to stop and “listen.” We are instructed  to let our light so shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify God in heaven. St. John Henry might add, let your music so sound that others might hear and thereby be transported to the realm of the invisible, where God has ordered all things for our good.

Note. For more of Newman’s poetry regarding the Music of the Spheres, read the reflection from this website on Newman’s poem, “Solitude.”

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

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(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.
 

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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