En una noche oscura,
con ansias, en amores inflamada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!,
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;
On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings — oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised — oh, happy chance! —
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
One dark night, fired with love's urgent longings — ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.
In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, — ah, the sheer grace! — in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled.
Variant translation by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (1991)
Upon a darkened night the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright I fled my house while all in quiet rest.
Shrouded by the night and by the secret stair I quickly fled.
The veil concealed my eyes while all within lay quiet as the dead
The little white dove has returned to the ark with the bough...
Let us rejoice, O my Beloved! Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty, To the mountain and the hill, Where the purewater flows...
God is pleased with nothing but love … All our works, and all our labours, how grand soever they may be, are nothing in the sight of God...
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. ~ 3
A thousand graces diffusing
He passed through the groves in haste,
And merely regarding them
As He passed
Clothed them with His beauty. ~ 5
Reveal Thy presence,
And let the vision and Thy beautykill me,
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Thy presence and before Thy face. ~ 11
O crystal well!
Oh that on Thy silvered surface
Thou wouldest mirror forth at once
Those eyes desired
Which are outlined in my heart! ~ 12
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. ~ 14 & 15
O killing north wind, cease!
Come, south wind, that awakenest love!
Blow through my garden,
And let its odours flow,
And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers. ~ 17
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. ~ 22
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. ~ 27
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. ~ 28
If, then, on the common land
I am no longer seen or found, You will say that I am lost;
That, being enamoured,
I lost myself; and yet was found. ~ 29
When Thou didst regard me,
Thine eyes imprinted in me Thy grace:
For this didst Thou love me again,
And thereby mine eyes did merit
To adore what in Thee they saw. ~ 32
Despise me not,
For if I was swarthy once
Thou canst regard me now; Since Thou hast regarded me, Grace and beauty hast Thou given me. ~ 33
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. ~ 34
In solitude she lived,
And in solitude built her nest;
And in solitude, alone
Hath the Beloved guided her,
In solitude also wounded with love. ~ 35
Let us rejoice, O my Beloved!
Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty,
To the mountain and the hill,
Where the purewater flows:
Let us enter into the heart of the thicket. ~ 36
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. ~ 37
There thou wilt show me
That which my soul desired;
And there Thou wilt give at once,
O Thou, my life!
That which Thou gavest me the other day. ~ 38
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. ~ 39
I have said that God is pleased with nothing but love; but before I explain this, it will be as well to set forth the grounds on which the assertion rests. All our works, and all our labours, how grand soever they may be, are nothing in the sight of God, for we can give Him nothing, neither can we by them fulfil His desire, which is the growth of our soul. As to Himself He desires nothing of this, for He has need of nothing, and so, if He is pleased with anything it is with the growth of the soul; and as there is no way in which the soul can grow but in becoming in a manner equal to Him, for this reason only is He pleased with our love. It is the property of love to place him who loves on an equality with the object of his love. Hence the soul, because of its perfect love, is called the bride of the Son of God, which signifies equality with Him. In this equality and friendship all things are common, as the Bridegroom Himself said to His disciples: I have called you friends, because all things, whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you.
When the soul has arrived at this state 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 divers 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!
Explanation of Stanza 28 part 8
There is nothing better or more necessary than love.
Note to Stanza 28 part 1
If the soul has not reached the state of unitive love, it is necessary for it to make acts of love, as well in the active as in the contemplative life. But when it has reached it, it is not requisite it should occupy itself in other and exterior duties — unless they be matters of obligation — which might hinder, were it but for a moment, the life of love in God, though they may minister greatly to His service; because an instant of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together, though it may seem as if nothing were done.
Note to Stanza 28 part 2
When the soul, then, in any degree possesses the spirit of solitary love, we must not interfere with it. We should inflict a grievous wrong upon it, and upon the Church also, if we were to occupy it, were it only for a moment, in exterior or active duties, however important they might be. When God Himself adjures all not to waken it from its love, who shall venture to do so, and be blameless? In a word, it is for this love that we are all created. Let those men of zeal, who think by their preaching and exterior works to convert the world, consider that they would be much more edifying to the Church, and more pleasing unto God — setting aside the good example they would give if they would spend at least one half their time in prayer, even though they may have not attained to the state of unitive love.
Note to Stanza 28 part 3
I have said this to explain the stanza that follows, in which the soul replies to those who call in question its holy tranquillity, who will have it wholly occupied with outward duties, that its light may shine before the world: these persons have no conception of the fibres and the unseen root whence the sap is drawn, and which nourish the fruit.
Note to Stanza 28 part 4
Worldly people are in the habit of censuring those who give themselves up in earnest to God, regarding them as extravagant, in their withdrawal from the world, and in their manner of life. They say also of them that they are useless for all matters of importance, and lost to everything the world prizes and respects! This reproach the soul meets in the best way; boldly and courageously despising it with everything else that the world can lay to its charge. Having attained to a living love of God, it makes little account of all this; and that is not all: it confesses it itself in this stanza, and boasts that it has committed that folly, and that it is lost to the world and to itself for the Beloved.
Note to Stanza 29 part 1
He who loves is not ashamed before men of what he does for God, neither does he hide it through shame though the whole world should condemn it.
Note to Stanza 29 part 4
When a soul has advanced so far on the spiritual road as to be lost to all the natural methods of communing with God; when it seeks Him no longer by meditation, images, impressions, nor by any other created ways, or representations of sense, but only by rising above them all, in the joyful communion with Him by faith and love, then it may be said to have found God of a truth, because it has truly lost itself as to all that is not God, and also as to its own self.
Deny your desires and you will find what your heart longs for. For how do you know if any desire of yours is according to God?
One humanthought alone is worth more than the entire world, hence God alone is worthy of it.
The very purespirit does not bother about the regard of others or human respect, but communes inwardly with God, alone and in solitude as to all forms, and with delightful tranquility, for the knowledge of God is received in divine silence.
If you wish to attain holy recollection, you will do so not by receiving but by denying.
Souls will be unable to reach perfection who do not strive to be content with having nothing, in such fashion that their natural and spiritual desire is satisfied with emptiness; for this is necessary in order to reach the highest tranquility and peace of spirit. Hence the love of God in the pure and simple soul is almost continually in act.
Although you perform many works, if you do not deny your will and submit yourself, losing all solicitude about yourself and your affairs, you will not make progress.
If you desire to discover peace and consolation for your soul and to serve God truly, do not find your satisfaction in what you have left behind, because in that which now concerns you you may be as impeded as you were before, or even more. But leave as well all these other things and attend to one thing alone that brings all these with it (namely, holy solitude, together with prayer and spiritual and divine reading), and persevere there in forgetfulness of all things.
Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.
Not all the faculties and senses have to be employed in things, but only those that are required; as for the others, leave them unoccupied for God.
The soul that desires God to surrender himself to it entirely must surrender itself entirely to him without keeping anything for itself.
Strive to preserve your heart in peace; let no event of this world disturb it; reflect that all must come to an end.
I have gone over three different translations of the poem, and am struck by how much a translation can alter our interpretation. ~ Loreena McKennitt
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. The most sublime of all the Spanish mystics, he soars aloft on the wings of Divine love to heights known to hardly any of them. . . . True to the character of his thought, his style is always forceful and energetic, even to a fault.
When we study his treatises — principally that great composite work known as the Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Dark Night — we have the impression of a mastermind that has scaled the heights of mystical science; and from their summit looks down upon and dominates the plain below and the paths leading upward.… Nowhere else, again, is he quite so appealingly human; for, though he is human even in his loftiest and sublimest passages, his intermingling of philosophy with mystical theology; makes him seem particularly so. These treatises are a wonderful illustration of the theological truth that grace far from destroying nature, ennobles and dignifies it, and of the agreement always found between the natural and the supernatural — between the principles of sound reason and the sublimest manifestations of Divine grace.
May, 1993 — Stratford... have been reading through the poetry of 15th century Spain, and I find myself drawn to one by the mystic writer and visionary St. John of the Cross; the untitled work is an exquisite, richly metaphoric love poem between himself and his god. It could pass as a love poem between any two at any time … His approach seems more akin to early Islamic or Judaic works in its more direct route to communication to his god... I have gone over three different translations of the poem, and am struck by how much a translation can alter our interpretation. Am reminded that most holy scriptures come to us in translation, resulting in a diversity of views.
Loreena McKennitt, notes from her journals in the CD booklet for The Mask and Mirror (1994)