St. John of the Cross, December 14

Today is the commemoration of the sixteenth-century Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross. He is best known in the contemporary world for the phrase “the dark night of the soul” although he never used it, and he doesn’t mean by “dark night” depression or atheism, which is often assumed. There’s a great essay on him by Lawrence Cunningham in America (2006).

Here is the beginning poem of the work that bears the title Dark Night of the Soul:

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
– ah, the sheer grace! –
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
– him I knew so well –
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

From: THE COLLECTED WORKS OF ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, revised edition (1991).

Copyright 1991 ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included.

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