Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman

In the poem “Solitude,” Blessed John Henry Newman reminds us of the importance of silent time alone with God, so that we can, as the psalmist teaches, “Be still” and know that He is God. Newman loved spending time with family and friends, but he also relished his solitude, where he could converse with God and develop that primary and all-important relationship. This poem, written in iambic pentameter, with rhymed couplets, is lovely to hear.


There is in stillness oft a magic power

To calm the breast, when struggling passions lower;

Touch’d by its influence, in the soul arise

Diviner feelings, kindred with the skies.

In these lines, Newman writes that when one is struggling with the “lower passions,” one way to “calm the breast” is to have some silence … so that within the soul can arise “diviner feelings.”

He continues:

By this the Arab’s kindling thoughts expand,

When circling skies inclose the desert sand;

For this the hermit seeks the thickest grove,

To catch th’ inspiring glow of heavenly love.

Here, Newman refers to the quiet solitude one finds outside, beneath the skies, something that a desert nomad experiences, surrounded by desert sands; and also the solitude a hermit seeks, to “catch the inspiring glow of heavenly love.”

In the next lines, however, Newman speaks of something else quite remarkable that is found in the solitude of the outdoors. Yes, solitude helps one to “fix the heart on heaven” but, to “listening ears,” there is something else to be heard in the quiet! Heavenly, not mortal, music, angelic choirs, and especially, the music of the spheres! This music will lift us “high above all mortal care.”

He writes:

It is not solely in the freedom given

To purify and fix the heart on heaven;

There is a Spirit singing aye in air,

That lifts us high above all mortal care.

No mortal measure swells that mystic sound,

No mortal minstrel breathes such tones around,—

The Angels’ hymn,—the sovereign harmony

That guides the rolling orbs along the sky,—

These lines speak of the ancient notion of understanding the world through harmony. Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans (500 BC) were the first to develop a sophisticated cosmology, teaching that the universe could be understood through numbers. They taught that celestial bodies, (Newman’s “rolling orbs”), moved in circles, an idea that was to survive for two thousand years. The Pythagoreans also believed that these heavenly bodies give forth musical sounds as they move: “the music of the spheres,” a music which humans can no longer hear because we have become used to it from childhood (a sort of background noise). The Pythagoreans believed that music was numbers and that the cosmos was music. Both St. Augustine1 and Boethius2 taught the existence of this heavenly music, as well as did the famous Johannes Kepler3, the genius Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who is known for formulating the laws of planetary motion. Kepler claimed he could hear the planets’ music – and he described it. He, too, believed that the order of the universe through numbers was an indication of the mind of the Creator. And so again to Newman:

And hence perchance the tales of saints who view’d

And heard Angelic choirs in solitude.

By most unheard,—because the earthly din

Of toil or mirth has charms their ears to win.

Alas for man! he knows not of the bliss,

The heaven that brightens such a life as this.

Newman returns to his theme: that “because of earthly din” — noise of work or of “mirth” which we allow to charm our ears – we cannot know this “bliss,” this heavenly music of the spheres and angel choirs which, if we would only “Be still,” both listen and pray, we would brighten our lives and turn us towards God.

And in his Apologia, Newman relates a quote from Cicero: “Nunquam minus solus, quam cum solus” — which means “Never less alone than when alone.” The Christian, who tries to live in the presence of God through continual acts of prayer, is never alone. Newman spoke of this inward conversation which led him to a fundamental trust, as he wrote, between two beings, “between God and myself.”

1, 2  Both St. Augustine’s and Boethius’ theoretical treatises on music are entitled “De Musica

3 Johannes Kepler’s Harmony of the World

Like this article?

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.

Leave a comment

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. 

Our Books

About Cardinal John Henry Newman

Purchase Book

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)

Purchase Book

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

Purchase Book

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.  

Purchase Book

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.

Purchase Book

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.

Purchase Book

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.
About Newman
Fr. Peter Conley

Slopes, Popes and Newman

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.”

Read More »
Sermon Blog
David Warren

Endurance, the Christian’s Portion

Today, on Good Friday, we remember our Lord’s crucifixion, not as though it was a wrinkle in His otherwise peaceful earthly life, but rather as the focus and the pattern of His life.

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

Fasting and Holy Week

In Fasting a Source of Trial, Newman reminds that we must not forget its main purpose: to unite ourselves with Christ.

Read More »