The Cloud of Unknowing

late 14th-century English mystical work

The Cloud of Unknowing is a Middle English spiritual guide, dating from the second half of the 14th century. The name of the author is not known, but he is thought to have been a monk from the east Midlands.


Quotations in Modern English are cited from James Walsh (ed.) The Cloud of Unknowing (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), to which page-numbers also refer.
  • For when I sey derknes, I mene a lackyng of knowyng; as alle that thing that thou knowest not, or elles that thou hast forgetyn, it is derk to thee, for thou seest it not with thi goostly ighe. And for this skile it is not clepid a cloude of the eire, bot a cloude of unknowyng, that is bitwix thee and thi God.
    • When I say "darkness", I mean a privation of knowing, just as whatever you do not know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it with your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.
    • Ch. 4, p. 128.
  • He may wel be loved, bot not thought. By love may He be getyn and holden; bot bi thought neither.
    • He can certainly be loved, but not thought. He can be taken and held by love but not by thought.
    • Ch. 6, p. 130.
  • Bete evermore on this cloude of unknowyng that is bitwix thee and thi God with a scharpe darte of longing love.
    • Beat with a sharp dart of longing love upon this cloud of unknowing which is between you and your God.
    • Ch. 12, p. 145.
  • Meeknes in itself is not ellis bot a trewe knowyng and felyng of a mans self as he is.
    • Humility…is nothing else but a true knowledge and experience of yourself as you are.
    • Ch. 13, p. 181.
  • Thinking may not goodly be getyn withoutyn reding or heryng comyng before…Ne preier may not goodly be getyn in bigynners and profiters withoutyn thinkyng comyng bifore.
    • There can be no profitable reflection without previous reading, or hearing…Nor will beginners or proficients come to true prayer without previous reflection.
    • Ch. 35, p. 188.
  • Schort preier peersith heven.
    • A short prayer pierces heaven.
    • Ch. 37, p. 193.
  • For not what thou arte, ne what thou hast ben, beholdeth God with his merciful ighe; bot that that thou woldest be.
    • Because it is not what you are nor what you have been that God looks at with his merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.
    • Ch. 75, p. 265.
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