Monday, October 25, 2010

John of the Cross

John of the Cross (1542–1591) was a Spanish mystic and Carmelite friar known for his allegorical poetry. It is from him the phrase “the dark night of the soul” has come to us.

In his prologue to The Spiritual Canticle he writes, “Who can describe the understanding [the Spirit of the Lord] gives to loving souls in whom He dwells? ...[L]et something of their experiences overflow in figures and similes, and from the abundance of their spirit pour out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanations.”

Clearly there is a relationship between “Song of Solomon” (aka “Song of Songs”, aka “Canticles”) and this poem. John of the Cross wrote a commentary on each stanza of the poem, as well, for those who might question the spiritual nature of his writing.

Selections from The Spiritual Canticle

Stanzas between the Soul and the Bridegroom


1. Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me moaning?
You fled like the stag
After wounding me;
I went out calling you, and you were gone.

2. Shepherds, you that go
Up through the sheepfolds to the hill,
If by chance you see
Him I love most,
Tell him that I sicken, suffer, and die.

3. Seeking my love
I will head for the mountains and for watersides,
I will not gather flowers,
Nor fear wild beasts;
I will go beyond strong men and frontiers...

9. Why, since you wounded
This heart, don’t you heal it?
And why, since you stole it from me,
Do you leave it so,
And fail to carry off what you have stolen?...

13... Bridegroom
Return, dove,
The wounded stag
Is in sight on the hill,
Cooled by the breeze of your flight...

33. Do not despise me;
For if, before you found me dark,
Now truly you can look at me
Since you have looked
And left in me grace and beauty...

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: