The Dark Night: St John of the Cross

St John of the Cross

“The Dark Night”

So dark the night! At rest
And hushed my house, I went with no one knowing
upon a lover’s quest
-Ah the sheer grace! – so blest,
my eager heart with love aflame and glowing.

In darkness, hid from sight
I went by secret ladder safe and sure
– Ah grace of sheer delight –
so softly veiled by night,
hushed now my house, in darkness and secure.

Hidden in that glad night,
regarding nothing as I stole away,
no one to see my flight,
no other guide or light
save one that in my heart burned bright as day.

Surer than noonday sun,
guiding me from the start this radiant light
led me to that dear One
waiting for me, well-known,
somewhere apart where no one came in sight.

Dark of the night, my guide,
fairer by far than dawn when stars grow dim!
Night that has united
the Lover and the Bride,
transforming the Beloved into him.

There on my flowered breast
that none but he might ever own or keep,
he stayed, sinking to rest,
and softly I caressed
my Love while cedars gently fanned his sleep.

Breeze from the turret blew
ruffling his hair. Then with his tranquil hand
wounding my neck, I knew
nothing: my senses flew
at touch of peace too deep to understand.

Forgetting all, my quest
ended, I stayed lost to myself at last.
All ceased: my face was pressed
upon my Love, at rest,
with all my cares among the lilies cast.

(Translated by Marjorie Flower, OCD: “The Poems of St. John of the Cross”)

[ I have known this poem a lot longer than “Living Flame of Love” (previous blog), in several translations, but only recently came across this one by Marjorie Flower, which I think is lovely. St John of the Cross’ book ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ is basically a commentary on this poem, which is allegorical, without denying its mystic erotic sensuality (after all the mystics affirm that the verb ‘knowing’ in knowing God is the same as that used for ‘knowing’ one another in marriage). As with “Living Flame of Love” I think I’m only really beginning to ‘get it’ now, as the ‘flesh’ begins to loosen its hold on me a little as I approach 60!]


Living Flame of Love: St. John of the Cross


“Living Flame of Love”

Flame, alive, compelling,
yet tender past all telling,
reaching the secret center of my soul!
Since now evasion’s over,
finish your work, my Lover,
break the last thread,
wound me and make me whole!

Burn that is for my healing!
Wound of delight past feeling!
Ah, gentle hand whose touch is a caress,
foretaste of heaven conveying
and every debt repaying:
slaying, you give me life for death’s distress.

O lamps of fire bright-burning
with splendid brilliance, turning
deep caverns of my soul to pools of light!
Once shadowed, dim, unknowing,
now their strange new-found glowing
gives warmth and radiance for my Love’s delight.

Ah, gentle and so loving
you wake within me, proving
that you are there in secret, all alone;
your fragrant breathing stills me
your grace, your glory fills me
so tenderly your love becomes my own.

Translated by Marjorie Flower, OCD: “The Poems of St. John of the Cross”

[ Amazing poem from St John of the Cross. I first came across this particular translation in Larry Crabb’s book “Shattered Dreams” more than a decade ago, and loved it then, but think I’m only really beginning to ‘get it’ now, as the ‘flesh’ begins to loosen its hold on me a little as I approach 60!]