A Heart to Heart with the Poetry of St. John Henry Newman

Sara and Justin Kraft

A Heart to Heart with the Poetry of St. John Henry Newman

Saint John Henry Newman was one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 19th century. He was born in London, England in 1801. Newman was raised as a member of the Anglican Church. He was a bright young man that was drawn to studying the Scriptures from an early age. In his autobiography, he cites age 15 as a turning point in his life. It was at this time that he first recognized his deep calling by God which started him on his great spiritual journey. 

Newman was ordained an Anglican priest in 1825. In the 1830s, Newman was one of the founders of the Oxford Movement, a movement designed to renew the faith in England. Newman fueled this movement by distributing short pamphlets which he had penned. He also became renowned for his preaching at this time. Many of his sermons are captured in one of my favorite works, "Parochial and Plain Sermons", which he preached while still an Anglican.

All throughout this time, Newman was gradually drawn to the Catholic Church. His struggles led to some of his greatest works. His, “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” was the fruit of his own personal struggle to come to terms with the development of doctrines proposed by the Catholic Church. As an Anglican, many of these doctrines were considered corruptions of the early faith. 

Newman was received into the Catholic Church on October 9, 1845. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1847. Over the next 30 years, Saint John Henry Newman would face many personal trials. He would face distrust from Anglicans and Catholics alike. 

He responded to it all with penetrating writings such as his “Grammar of Assent” and his autobiography, “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” (translated “A defense of my life”). These works were fundamental in restoring his reputation and in 1879 he was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XII. A more complete biography from which this summary was compiled can be found here.

The church honors St. John Henry Newman on his feast day October, 9th which is the day of his conversion.

“Heart Speaks to Heart”: The Poetry of St. John Henry Newman

St. John Henry Newman is known for his towering intellect which he revealed through masterful prose in the works cited above as well as many others. However, he composed hundreds of poems throughout his lifetime. “Lead Kindly Light” is perhaps the most famous and was set to music. It is now one of the most well-known English hymns. 

When named a Cardinal he adopted the phrase “Cor ad Cor Loquitor” or “Heart Speaks to Heart” as his Cardinal motto. 

In his poems, Saint John Henry Newman truly allows his heart to speak to the heart of God. His poems speak to the various stages and experiences of life. Many of his poems can be found online at: NewmanReader.org or MyPoeticSide.com.

Poetry and Prayer

One of the most striking features of Saint John Henry Newman’s poems is that they are also prayers. In them, heart truly speaks to heart. I like to sometimes read and reflect on the words, saying them as my own. In this way, Saint John Henry Newman helps me articulate my own emotions and experiences to God. 

This can be a very fruitful form of prayer as Saint John Henry Newman articulates personal fears, successes, and regrets. All experiences that I share. However, his words help me to identify and relate these personal fears, successes, and regrets to God. 

My personal favorite poem by Saint John Henry Newman is “Guardian Angel”. I love this poem because it reminds me of the accompaniment of God through my Guardian Angel. God accompanies me from my first breath, to my last. 


“My oldest friend, mine from the hour

When first I drew my breath;

My faithful friend, that shall be mine,

Unfailing, till my death;”


When I read this, I am able to acknowledge my own faults. It also reminds me that my actions, whether good or bad, do not go unseen. 


“And when, ere boyhood yet was gone,

My rebel spirit fell,

Ah! thou didst see, and shudder too,

Yet bear each deed of Hell.”


Yet, there is always gentleness, hope, and forgiveness with God through repentance. Sorrow and regrets are healed. Pain is taken away.


“And then in turn, when judgments came,

And scared me back again,

Thy quick soft breath was near to soothe

And hallow every pain.”


God defends me at all times. His help is untiring. 


“And thou wilt hang about my bed,

When life is ebbing low;

Of doubt, impatience, and of gloom,

The jealous sleepless foe.” {302}


(For the full text of "Guardian Angel", please visit: https://www.newmanreader.org/works/verses/verse167.html)


Want to read more?

What St. John Henry Newman's Life Can Teach Us About Following Christ