‘View of Toledo’ – El Greco, 1596 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) – Wikimedia
During the night of 2 December 1577, in the city of Toledo in central Spain, a priest was imprisoned by a group of Carmelites who were refusing Teresa of Ávila’s reformation projects for their Order. He was jailed for 9 months in a monastery under brutal conditions. He was publicly beaten at least weekly, confined in a cell of barely 10 by 6 feet, with only a little light passing through a hole during the day, with bread and scraps of salt fish for a meal, and no change of clothes. But his burning love of god, along with his unfailing devotion and clarity of mind, allowed the 35 years old friar to compose, along with other shorter poems, the greater part of a sumptuous poem — ‘The Spiritual Canticle’ — about a bride’s search for her beloved. The poem, symbolising the soul seeking union with god, and inspired by the ‘Songs of Songs’ of the Bible, starts with these eloquent lines:
“Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.”
~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’
The name of this priest and poet was John of the Cross, a Spanish Catholic mystic born in 1542 near Ávila, to whom we owe some of the brightest exposition of truth in the Christian world. Thomas Merton, who held him in very high esteem, presented him as “one of the greatest as well as the safest mystical theologians God has given to His Church.” John of the Cross was born in a poor family of Jewish converts to Catholicism, and received a simple education. He entered the Carmelite Order, made his First Profession when 21, and met Teresa of Ávila a few years later, of whom he remained a faithful associate all his life. Although not a scholar, his studies in theology and philosophy allowed him to quote abundantly from the Bible, and be acquainted with the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Although I have chosen to quote here only from the poem ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, John of the Cross is the author of many other poems, among which the renowned ‘The Dark Night’ — better known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ — and ‘The Ascent of Mount Carmel’. His poems have a rich and powerful imagery and are considered to be masterpieces of Spanish poetry. Although they transpire with beauty and meaning, they are not to be readily understood. This is why John of the Cross wrote precise and extensive commentaries on them, some soaring pieces of teaching whose beauty and profundity is sometimes breathtaking. The most exquisite poetry is here going hand in hand with both a great depth of understanding, and the sweetest accents of devotion. The commentaries were written in prose but are here occasionally presented in a free verse form when they lent themselves to it. I am sharing the 1909 translation made by David Lewis, with corrections by Benedict Zimmerman. Listen with what tender accents of poetry and longing the bride is here conversing with her bridegroom, and how a suffering soul who has tasted of the divine is longing for “the secret chamber of God”, which is nothing but the pure consciousness that is hiding in our innermost being:
“O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures,
who so long to know the place where your Beloved is,
that you may seek Him, and be united to Him,
you know now that you are yourself
that very tabernacle where He dwells,
the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden.
Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good
and all your hope is so near you as to be within you;
or, to speak more accurately, that you can not be without it.”
~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, 1.8 (Commentaries)
“You will still urge and say, How is it, then, that I find Him not, nor feel Him, if He is within my soul?
It is because He is hidden, and because you hide not yourself also that you may find Him and feel Him;
for he that will seek that which is hidden must enter secretly into the secret place where it is hidden,
and when he finds it, he is himself hidden like the object of his search.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 1.11 (Commentaries)
“What more can you desire, what more can you seek without,
seeing that within you have your riches, your delight,
your satisfaction, your fullness and your kingdom;
that is, your Beloved, Whom you desire and seek?
Rejoice, then, and be glad in Him with interior recollection,
seeing that you have Him so near. Then love Him, then desire Him,
then adore Him, and go not to seek Him out of yourself,
for that will be but distraction and weariness, and
you shall not find Him; because there is no fruition of Him
more certain, more ready, or more intimate than that which is within.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 1.9 (Commentaries)
Teresa of Àvila was eager to bring some reforms to the Carmelite Order, with more strict and austere observances, and a new rule against wearing covered shoes. The new order was then to be called the Order of Discalced Carmelites. John was helping Teresa to achieve that and was travelling with her to found new religious communities. But tensions were sprouting that led to John’s imprisonment. The commentaries on the poem continue with some general advices for the path. John stresses the importance of separating oneself from objective experiences in order to abide in just being.
“Never seek to satisfy yourself with what you comprehend of God, but rather with what you comprehend not; and never rest on the love of, and delight in, that which you can understand and feel, but rather on that which is beyond your understanding and feeling: this is, as I have said, to seek Him by faith.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 1.16 (Commentaries)
“God is, as I said before, inaccessible and hidden, and though it may seem that you have found Him, felt Him, and comprehended Him, yet you must ever regard Him as hidden, serve Him as hidden, in secret. Do not be like many unwise, who, with low views of God, think that when they cannot comprehend Him, or be conscious of His presence, that He is then farther away and more hidden, when the contrary is true, namely, that He is nearer to them when they are least aware of it.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 1.17 (Commentaries)
“Seeing, then, that the Bridegroom whom you love is ‘the treasure hidden in the field’ [Matt. 13:44] of your soul, for which the wise merchant gave all that he had, so you, if you will find Him, must forget all that is yours, withdraw from all created things, and hide yourself in the secret retreat of the spirit, shutting the door upon yourself — that is, denying your will in all things — and ‘praying to your Father in secret’. [Matt. 6:6] Then you, being hidden with Him, will be conscious of His presence in secret, and will love Him, possess Him in secret, and delight in Him in secret, in a way that no tongue or language can express.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 1.11 (Commentaries)
“Tell my Beloved,
that as I languish,
and as He only is my salvation,
to save me;
that as I am suffering,
and as He only is my joy,
to give me joy;
that as I am dying,
and as He only is my life,
to give me life.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 2.10 (Commentaries)
As the resolution of the disputes within the Carmelite order were settling and the new ‘Discalced’ Order authorised, John was intensifying his travels, becoming here the superior of a monastery, and there the rector of a college. He is estimated to have travelled 25,000 kms during this period. Teresa of Àvila died in 1582, when John was 40 years old, and a prior of a newly founded monastery. John is here stressing, in his commentaries, the inherent search of the soul towards happiness, and the importance of realising that awareness is not a mere function of the body, but our very being where abide the body and all objects or “created things”. Mingled with his precise observations, we find some touching expressions of devotion such as this:
“O Lord my Bridegroom,
Who gave me Yourself partially before,
give me Yourself wholly now.
You who showed glimpses of Yourself before,
show Yourself clearly now.
You who communicated Yourself hitherto
by the instrumentality of messengers —
it was as if You mocked me —
give Yourself by Yourself now.
Sometimes when You visited me
You gave me the pearl of Your possession,
and, when I began to examine it, lo,
it was gone, for You had hidden it Yourself:
it was like a mockery.
Give me then Yourself in truth, Your whole self,
that I may have You wholly to myself wholly,
and send me no messengers again.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 6.6 (Commentaries)
“The soul, pierced by the arrow of love,
never ceases from seeking to alleviate its pains.
Not only does it not succeed, but its pains increase,
let it think, and say, and do what it may; and knowing this,
and that there is no other remedy but the resignation of itself
into the hands of Him Who wounded it, that He may relieve it,
and effectually slay it through the violence of its love.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 8 (Note in Commentaries)
“We must keep in mind, for the better understanding of this, that the soul lives there where it loves, rather than in the body which it animates. The soul does not live by the body, but, on the contrary, gives it life, and lives by love in that which it loves. For beside this life of love which it lives in God Who loves it, the soul has its radical and natural life in God, like all created things, according to the saying of St. Paul: ‘In Him we live, and move, and are;’ [Acts 17:28] that is, our life, motion, and being is in God. St. John also says that all that was made was life in God: ‘That which was made, in Him was life.’ [John 1:3]”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 8.2 (Commentaries)
‘John of the Cross’ – Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656 – Wikimedia
“Since my eyes have no other light,
either of nature or of love, but You,
let them behold You, Who
in every way are their light.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 10.5 (Commentaries)
John of the Cross’ writings have influenced many a spiritual writer like Thérèse de Lisieux, Edith Stein, T. S. Eliot or Thomas Merton, as well as philosophers and artists like Salvador Dalí. John is sometimes named the ‘mystical doctor’, in reference to his later declaration as one of the 37 Doctors of the Church. All have recognised the simplicity and humble nature of his message. The Cardinal Wiseman said of John of the Cross that he “invents nothing, borrows nothing from others, but gives us clearly the results of his own experience in himself and others. He presents you with a portrait, not with a fancy picture. He represents the ideal of one who has passed, as he had done, through the career of the spiritual life, through its struggles and its victories“. The ‘bhakti’ like accents contained in his writings are a testimony of John’s genuine path of love and understanding. He further describes the nature of awareness as all encompassing, primordial, and bearer of profound peace and happiness.
“Why, after wounding this heart, have You not healed it?” […]
Why have You struck it so sharply as to wound it so deeply,
and yet not healed it by killing it utterly with love?
As You are the cause of its pain in the affliction of love,
be You also the cause of its health by a death from love;
so the heart, wounded by the pain of Your absence, shall be
healed in the delight and glory of Your Sweet presence.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 9.2 (Commentaries)
“To understand this clearly we must remember that there are three ways in which God is present in the soul. The first is His presence in essence, not in holy souls only, but in wretched and sinful souls as well, and also in all created things; for it is by this presence that He gives life and being, and were it once withdrawn all things would return to nothing.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 11.2 (Commentaries)
“Do not speak as before, when Your conversation with me was known to the outward senses, for it was once such as to be comprehended by them; it was not so profound but they could fathom it. Now let Your conversation with me be so deep and so substantial, and so interior, as to be above the reach of the senses.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 19:4 (Commentaries)
“In a certain sense, God is become its possession, Who, though He delights in all things, yet in nothing so much as in Himself, seeing that He has all good eminently in Himself. Thus all accessions of joy serve to remind the soul that its real joy is in its interior possessions, rather than in these accidental causes, because, as I have said, the former are greater than the latter.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 20:14 (Commentaries)
In his younger days, John of the Cross had a vision which led him to create a drawing called ‘Christ from above’, and inspired one of Salvador Dalí’s paintings. John’s beautiful expressions of his understanding is further expressed, when he describes the profound delight contained in just being, the merging of the self in god’s being which requires both the soul’s strength to withhold its power and its weakness to be dissolved within it, and how this new abode of the soul is transforming men’s qualities into “dens of lions”. Such is the clarity and poetry of his writings that Edgar Allison Peers, who translated his work, wrote eloquently: “It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that the verse and prose works combined of St. John of the Cross form at once the most grandiose and the most melodious spiritual canticle to which any one man has ever given utterance.”
“Nothing can approach her, nothing can molest her, for
she has escaped from all created things and entered into God,
to the fruition of perfect peace, sweetness, and delight,
so far as that is possible in this life.
It is to this state that the words of Solomon are applicable:
‘A secure mind is as it were a continual feast.’ [Prov. 15:15]
As in a feast we have the savor of all meat,
and the sweetness of all music, so in this feast,
which the bride keeps in the bosom of her Beloved,
the soul rejoices in all delight, and has the taste of all sweetness.
All that I have said, and all that may be said, on this subject,
will always fall short of that which passes in the soul
which has attained to this blessed state.
For when it shall have attained to the peace of God,
‘which’, in the words of the Apostle, ‘surpasses all understanding’, [Phil. 4:7]
no description of its state is possible.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 20:17 (Commentaries)
“I believe that no soul ever attains to this state without being confirmed in grace, for the faithfulness of both is confirmed; that of God being confirmed in the soul. Hence it follows, that this is the very highest state possible in this life. As by natural marriage there are “two in one flesh,” [Gen. 2:24] so also in the spiritual marriage between God and the soul there are two natures in one spirit and love, as we learn from St. Paul, who made use of the same metaphor, saying, “He that cleaves to the Lord is one spirit.” [1 Cor 6:17] So, when the light of a star, or of a candle, is united to that of the sun, the light is not that of the star, nor of the candle, but of the sun itself, which absorbs all other light in its own.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 22:3 (Commentaries)
(Commenting on one of his poem’s verse: ’And there reposes to her heart’s content; her neck reclining on the sweet arms of the Beloved.’)
“The neck is the soul’s strength, by means of which
its union with the Beloved is wrought;
for the soul could not endure so close an embrace
if it had not been very strong.
This reclining of the neck on the arms of God
is the union of the soul’s strength, or, rather,
of the soul’s weakness, with the strength of God,
in Whom our weakness, resting and transformed,
puts on the strength of God Himself.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 22:8-9 (Commentaries)
“The dens of lions signify the virtues with which the soul is endowed in the state of union. The dens of lions are safe retreats, protected from all other animals, who, afraid of the boldness and strength of the lion within, are afraid not only to enter, but even to appear in sight. So each virtue of the soul in the state of perfection is like a den of lions where Christ dwells united to the soul in that virtue; and in every one of them as a strong lion. The soul also, united to Him in those very virtues, is as a strong lion, because it then partakes of the perfections of God.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 24:4 (Commentaries)
‘John of the Cross’ Crucifixion Sketch’ – Wikimedia
Here are now some of John’s beautiful passages where is conveyed the glory of a life lived in god’s being, with all the erotic accents contained in the intimacy of the presence of love. Our life and the world are now experienced with loving indifference since we stand and abide in the pure, unaltered consciousness of being, before the appearance of all and everything, and nevertheless merged with them and with god’s presence too.
“Sometimes the soul will discern in itself the mountain flowers — the fullness, grandeur, and beauty of God — intermingled with the lilies of the valley — rest, refreshment, and defense; and again among them, the fragrant roses of the strange islands — the strange knowledge of God; and further, the perfume of the water lilies of the roaring torrents — the majesty of God filling the whole soul. And amid all this, it enjoys the exquisite fragrance of the jasmine, and the whisper of the amorous gales, the fruition of which is granted to the soul in the estate of union, and in the same way all the other virtues and graces, the calm knowledge, silent music, murmuring solitude, and the sweet supper of love; and the joy of all this is such as to make the soul say in truth, “Our bed is of flowers, by dens of lions encompassed.” Blessed is that soul which in this life deserves at times to enjoy the perfume of these divine flowers.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 24:9 (Commentaries)
“This sweetness and impression of Himself which God leaves in the soul render it light and active in running after Him; for the soul then does little or nothing in its own strength towards running along this road, being rather attracted by the divine footsteps, so that it not only advances, but even runs, as I said before, in many ways. The bride in the Canticle, therefore, prays for the divine attraction, saying, ‘Draw me, we will run after You to the odor of Your ointments’ [Cant. 1:3]; and David says, ‘I have run the way of Your commandments, when You dilated my heart.’ [Ps. 118:32]”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 25:4-5 (Commentaries)
“The bride in the Canticle speaks of this divine touch, saying, ‘My Beloved put His hand through the opening, and my belly trembled at His touch.’ [Cant. 5:4] The touch of the Beloved is the touch of love, and His hand is the grace He bestows upon the soul, and the opening through which He puts His hand is the vocation and the perfection, at least the degree of perfection of the soul; for accordingly will His touch be heavier or lighter, in proportion to its spiritual state. The belly that trembled is the will, in which the touch is effected, and the trembling is the stirring up of the desires and affections to love, long for, and praise God.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 25:7 (Commentaries)
“What God communicates to the soul in this intimate union is utterly ineffable, beyond the reach of all possible words — just as it is impossible to speak of God Himself so as to convey any idea of what He is — because it is God Himself who communicates Himself to the soul now in the marvelous bliss of its transformation. In this state God and the soul are united, as the window is with the light, or coal with the fire, or the light of the stars with that of the sun.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 26:3 (Commentaries)
“For a clearer understanding of this, we must remember that the most regular cause of the soul’s ignoring the things of the world, when it has ascended to this high state, is that it is informed by a supernatural knowledge, in the presence of which all natural and worldly knowledge is ignorance rather than knowledge. […] This is the reason why the soul says it knows nothing, now that it has drunk of the divine wisdom. The truth is that the wisdom of men and of the whole world is mere ignorance, and not deserving any attention, but it is a truth that can be learned only in that truth of the presence of God in the soul communicating to it His wisdom and making it strong by this draught of love that it may see it distinctly.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 26:11-12 (Commentaries)
John is now describing the bliss and ease of living that is bestowed on us when we fully surrender in the pure light of being, or god’s being, “where all is the very substance of love, the joyous delights of the betrothal.”
“The soul in this sweet draught of God, surrenders itself wholly to Him most willingly and with great sweetness; it desires to be wholly His, and never to retain anything which is unbecoming His Majesty. God is the author of this union, and of the purity and perfection requisite for it; and as the transformation of the soul in Himself makes it His, He empties it of all that is alien to Himself. Thus it comes to pass that, not in will only, but in act as well, the whole soul is entirely given to God without any reserve whatever, as God has given Himself freely to it. The will of God and of the soul are both satisfied, each given up to the other, in mutual delight, so that neither fails the other in the faith and constancy of the betrothal.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 27:4 (Commentaries)
“All my occupation now is
the practice of the love of God,
all the powers of soul and body,
memory, understanding, and will,
interior and exterior senses,
the desires of spirit and of sense,
all work in and by love.
All I do is done in love; all I suffer,
I suffer in the sweetness of love.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 28:8 (Commentaries)
“All the acts of its spiritual and sensual nature, whether active or passive, and of whatever kind they may be, always occasion an increase of love and delight in God: even the act of prayer and communion with God, which was once carried on by reflections and diverse other methods, is now wholly an act of love. So much so is this the case that the soul may always say, whether occupied with temporal or spiritual things, ‘My sole occupation is love.’ Happy life! happy state! and happy the soul which has attained to it! where all is the very substance of love, the joyous delights of the betrothal.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 28:8 (Commentaries)
“If we could clearly understand this truth, we must keep in mind that, as God loves nothing beside Himself, so loves He nothing more than Himself, because He loves all things with reference to Himself. Thus love is the final cause, and God loves nothing for what it is in itself. Consequently, when we say that God loves such a soul, we say, in effect, that He brings it in a manner to Himself, making it His equal, and thus it is He loves that soul in Himself with that very love with which He loves Himself.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 32:6 (Commentaries)
“When God beholds a soul that is lovely in His eyes
He is moved to bestow more grace upon it
because He dwells well-pleased within it.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 33:5 (Commentaries)
“In the solitude of perfect detachment from all things, wherein it lives alone with God — there He guides it, moves it, and elevates it to divine things. […] For the instant the soul clears and empties its faculties of all earthly objects, and from attachments to higher things, keeping them in solitude, God immediately fills them with the invisible and divine; it being God Himself Who guides it in this solitude.“
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 35:5 (Commentaries)
John is here stressing the nature of awareness as being beauty, love, and happiness. He is comparing the experience of the presence of god, which takes place in and as our own being, with the pure song of a nightingale:
“As the song of the nightingale is heard in the spring of the year, when the cold, and rain, and changes of winter are past, filling the ear with melody, and the mind with joy; so, in the true intercourse and transformation of love, which takes place in this life, the bride, now protected and delivered from all trials and changes of the world, detached, and free from the imperfections, sufferings, and darkness both of mind and body, becomes conscious of a new spring in liberty, largeness, and joy of spirit, in which she hears the sweet voice of the Bridegroom, Who is her sweet nightingale, renewing and refreshing the very substance of her soul, now prepared for the journey of everlasting life.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 39:9 (Commentaries)
“Let me be so transformed in Your beauty, that,
being alike in beauty, we may see ourselves both in Your beauty;
having Your beauty, so that, one beholding the other,
each may see his own beauty in the other,
the beauty of both being Yours only,
and mine absorbed in it.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 36:3 (Commentaries)
“To the soul inebriated with love the first consideration is not the essential glory which God will bestow upon it, but the entire surrender of itself to Him in true love, without any regard to its own advantage.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 38:8 (Commentaries)
“This breathing of the Holy Spirit in the soul,
whereby God transforms it in Himself,
is to the soul a joy so deep, so exquisite,
and so grand that no mortal tongue can describe it,
no human understanding, as such, conceive it in any degree.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 39:2 (Commentaries)
“My soul is so detached, so denuded, so lonely, so estranged from all created things, in heaven and earth; it has become so recollected in You, that nothing whatever can come within sight of that most intimate joy which I have in You. That is, there is nothing whatever that can cause me pleasure with its sweetness, or disgust with its vileness; for my soul is so far removed from all such things, absorbed in such profound delight in You, that nothing can behold me.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 40:3 (Commentaries)
Following some internal disagreements with the Discalced Carmelite Order, John was sent to an isolated monastery in Andalusia, where he fell ill. He died at Úbeda, of erysipelas in 1591, at age 49. Let’s end these commentaries by John of the Cross with this condensed and lovely description of the spiritual journey:
“The soul went forth at its creation out of the ark of God’s omnipotence, and having traversed the deluge of its sins and imperfections, and finding no rest for its desires, flew and returned on the air of the longings of its love to the ark of its Creator’s bosom. […] Thus the dove-soul returns to the ark of God not only white and pure as it went forth when He created it, but with the olive branch of reward and peace obtained by the conquest of itself.”
~ The Spiritual Canticle, 34:3 (Commentaries)
‘Praying Hands’ – Albrecht Dürer, 1508 – Wikimedia
Here is John of the Cross’ poem ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, translated by David Lewis with corrections by Benedict Zimmerman, 1909.
Electronic edition with modernization of English by Harry Plantinga, 1995.
This text is in the public domain. (WikiSource)
“This canticle was made by the Saint when he was in the prison of the Mitigation, in Toledo.”
~ John of the Cross (Prologue)
SONG OF THE SOUL AND THE BRIDEGROOM
(Translated by David Lewis)
Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.
O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.
In search of my Love
I will go over mountains and strands;
I will gather no flowers,
I will fear no wild beasts;
And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.
O groves and thickets
Planted by the hand of the Beloved;
O verdant meads
Enameled with flowers,
Tell me, has He passed by you?
[Answer of the creatures]
A thousand graces diffusing
He passed through the groves in haste,
And merely regarding them
As He passed
Clothed them with His beauty.
Oh! who can heal me?
Give me at once Yourself,
Send me no more
Who cannot tell me what I wish.
All they who serve are telling me
Of Your unnumbered graces;
And all wound me more and more,
And something leaves me dying,
I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking.
But how you persevere, O life,
Not living where you live;
The arrows bring death
Which you receive
From your conceptions of the Beloved.
Why, after wounding
This heart, have You not healed it?
And why, after stealing it,
Have You thus abandoned it,
And not carried away the stolen prey?
Quench my troubles,
For no one else can soothe them;
And let my eyes behold You,
For You are their light,
And I will keep them for You alone.
Reveal Your presence,
And let the vision and Your beauty kill me,
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Your presence and before Your face.
O crystal well!
Oh that on Your silvered surface
You would mirror forth at once
Those eyes desired
Which are outlined in my heart!
Turn them away, O my Beloved!
I am on the wing:
Return, My Dove!
The wounded hart
Looms on the hill
In the air of your flight and is refreshed.
My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;
The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love.
Catch us the foxes,
For our vineyard has flourished;
While of roses
We make a nosegay,
And let no one appear on the hill.
O killing north wind, cease!
Come, south wind, that awakens love!
Blow through my garden,
And let its odors flow,
And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers.
O nymphs of Judea!
While amid the flowers and the rose-trees
The amber sends forth its perfume,
Tarry in the suburbs,
And touch not our thresholds.
Hide yourself, O my Beloved!
Turn Your face to the mountains,
Do not speak,
But regard the companions
Of her who is traveling amidst strange islands.
Lions, fawns, bounding does,
Mountains, valleys, strands,
Waters, winds, heat,
And the terrors that keep watch by night;
By the soft lyres
And the siren strains, I adjure you,
Let your fury cease,
And touch not the wall,
That the bride may sleep in greater security.
The bride has entered
The pleasant and desirable garden,
And there reposes to her heart’s content;
Her neck reclining
On the sweet arms of the Beloved.
Beneath the apple-tree
There were you betrothed;
There I gave you My hand,
And you were redeemed
Where your mother was corrupted.
Our bed is of flowers
By dens of lions encompassed,
Hung with purple,
Made in peace,
And crowned with a thousand shields of gold.
In Your footsteps
The young ones run Your way;
At the touch of the fire
And by the spiced wine,
The divine balsam flows.
In the inner cellar
Of my Beloved have I drunk; and when I went forth
Over all the plain
I knew nothing,
And lost the flock I followed before.
There He gave me His breasts,
There He taught me the science full of sweetness.
And there I gave to Him
Myself without reserve;
There I promised to be His bride.
My soul is occupied,
And all my substance in His service;
Now I guard no flock,
Nor have I any other employment:
My sole occupation is love.
If, then, on the common land
I am no longer seen or found,
You will say that I am lost;
That, being enamored,
I lost myself; and yet was found.
Of emeralds, and of flowers
In the early morning gathered,
We will make the garlands,
Flowering in Your love,
And bound together with one hair of my head.
By that one hair
You have observed fluttering on my neck,
And on my neck regarded,
You were captivated;
And wounded by one of my eyes.
When You regarded me,
Your eyes imprinted in me Your grace:
For this You loved me again,
And thereby my eyes merited
To adore what in You they saw
Despise me not,
For if I was swarthy once
You can regard me now;
Since You have regarded me,
Grace and beauty have You given me.
The little white dove
Has returned to the ark with the bough;
And now the turtle-dove
Its desired mate
On the green banks has found.
In solitude she lived,
And in solitude built her nest;
And in solitude, alone
Has the Beloved guided her,
In solitude also wounded with love.
Let us rejoice, O my Beloved!
Let us go forth to see ourselves in Your beauty,
To the mountain and the hill,
Where the pure water flows:
Let us enter into the heart of the thicket.
We shall go at once
To the deep caverns of the rock
Which are all secret,
There we shall enter in
And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate.
There you will show me
That which my soul desired;
And there You will give at once,
O You, my life!
That which You gave me the other day.
The breathing of the air,
The song of the sweet nightingale,
The grove and its beauty
In the serene night,
With the flame that consumes, and gives no pains.
None saw it;
Neither did Aminadab appear
The siege was intermitted,
And the cavalry dismounted
At the sight of the waters.
Poem and Commentaries by John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Paintings by El Greco (1541-1614) ; Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) ; John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Accompanying text by Alain Joly
Read the poem ‘The Dark Night’ by John of the Cross…
– ‘The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross’ – by John of the Cross (Trans. by David Lewis) – (Independently published)
– ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ – by John of the Cross (trans. by Mirabel Starr) – (Riverhead Books)
– ‘The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross’ – by John of the Cross (Trans. by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otitis Rodriguez) – (ICS Publications)
– John of the Cross (Wikipedia)
– The Spiritual Canticle (Wikipedia)
– El Greco (Wikipedia)
– Albrecht Dürer (Wikipedia)
– Francisco de Zurbarán (Wikipedia)
– Nicholas Wiseman (Wikipedia)
– Edgar Allison Peers (Wikipedia)
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