Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman

Poetry was important to Newman throughout his life. Within his poetry runs a thread of autobiography which gives an intimate insight into his feelings, his heart, and his mind. Knowing this makes reading his poetry all the more rewarding, like unwrapping a package. As we go through some of his poems, we can ask, “What can we discover about you in this poem, John Henry?  The poem, “Snapdragon: a Riddle for a Flower Book” brings a rich reward of discovery. It seems at first a straightforward poem in which Newman extols the beautiful simplicity of a Snapdragon, a sturdy and tenacious flower, native to both Europe and the middle east, a flower which is able to grow in stone walls.  The poem is told from the viewpoint of the Snapdragon and through the imagined voice of the Snapdragon, and the end of the poem will solve the “riddle” from the title, which will also bring us closer to Newman.

The pleasant sound of this poem, both to read and to hear, comes from its evenly metered mostly trochaic lines, that is, the syllables in the words in each line are arranged so they are in a repeated pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.  (a trochee is two syllables, the first stressed, the second unstressed – like “AN-gel”). There are also a few iambic lines (an iamb is two syllables, the first unstressed, the second, stressed – like “for -GIVE”).  These metered lines follow the rhyme scheme of the couplet; that is, with each pair of lines, the final words rhyme. Newman amazingly used 27 different pairs of end rhyme, with only two repeated rhymes.  This meter and rhyme scheme is evident in the first 6 lines:

I AM rooted in the wall

Of buttress’d tower or ancient hall;

Prison’d in an art-wrought bed.

Cased in mortar, cramp’d with lead;

Of a living stock alone

Brother of the lifeless stone.

In these lines, Newman invites the reader to imagine the Snapdragon imprisoned in its cramped space – the only living thing in the wall,  “brother of the lifeless stone.” The poem continues, still in the voice of the Snapdragon, but then Newman contrasts the  “unprized” Snapdragon with fancier flowers – which he names and describes.

Else unprized, I have my worth

On the spot that gives me birth;

Nature’s vast and varied field

Braver flowers than me will yield,

Bold in form and rich in hue,

Children of a purer dew;

Smiling lips and winning eyes

Meet for earthly paradise.

Choice are such,—and yet thou knowest

Highest he whose lot is lowest.

They, proud hearts, a home reject

Framed by human architect;

Humble-I can bear to dwell

Near the pale recluse’s cell,

And I spread my crimson bloom,

Mingled with the cloister’s gloom.

Here, in the voice of the Snapdragon, Newman refers to fancy flowers, saying they “reject” a home “framed by human architect” – that is, the Snapdragon, happily lives in a man-built wall while the others must live in the soil or dirt of the field. This ability of the Snapdragon to live in stone means that it can live in all sorts of walls, as in a cloister – and brighten the gloomy walls with its crimson blooms. The Snapdragon, however, doesn’t mind.  “Highest he whose lot is lowest” and  “Humble-I can bear to dwell/Near the pale recluse’s cell.” The Snapdragon isn’t envious of the other flowers. It is content to brighten its surroundings without notice from the world. So in two separate lines, Newman has brought up the humility of the Snapdragon.  Newman struggled with pride — he wanted to obtain academic distinction. Here, though, we find  him praising the lowly Snapdragon for this trait he desired.


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Newman wrote, “I have been accustomed to consider the action of the creator on and in the created universe, as parallel in a certain sense to that of the soul upon the body.”

For a Christian, death is no longer defeat nor something to fear, rather it is the sign of Christ’s victory.

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We need to remember our mortality, so that we may be ready to meet Our Lord each and every day. Lent and lenten mortifications have a role in this preparation. We must die to self daily, so that we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection. 

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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)

Review by Serenheed James
(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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