Blessed John Henry Newman’s poem Dream of Gerontius is a narrative poem relating the deathbed experience of an old man. At the climax he dies and experiences the beatific vision. The sight of God makes him exclaim–suddenly aware of his shame and unworthiness, ‘Take me away!” Then the angel over seeing his passing directs him to the purgatory he longs for.
Newman’s poem was set to music by fellow Catholic, English composer Edward Elgar. The oratorio (I believe) is rarely performed in the USA. In England it is a favorite of local amateur choral societies. Here is the legendary mezzo soprano–Dame Janet Baker–singing the Angel’s Farewell–in which the angel lovingly guides the soul to the purgation that awaits him. Bewdiful.
Here’s the text:
Softly and gently, dearly-ransom’d soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.
Farewell, but not for ever! brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow
I challenge you to take a moment and listen to this piece of music once, following along with the text. Then listen again and pay attention to the way Baker colors practically every word. She was known as one of the finest interpreters of song in English ever. Listen to the way she uses the music and her skill to bring forward the meaning of each word. Amazing!