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!]

Duality: Wendell Berry


Duality

So God created man in his
own image, in the image of God
created he him; male and female
created he them.

I
To love is to suffer – did I
know this when first
I asked you for your love?
I did not. And yet until
I knew, I could not know what
I asked, or gave. I gave
a suffering that I took: yours
and mine, mine when yours;
and yours I have feared most.

II
What can bring us past
this knowledge, so that you
will never wish our life
undone? For if ever you
wish it so, then I must wish
so too, and lovers yet unborn,
whom we are reaching toward
with love, will turn to this
page, and find it blank.

III
I have feared to be unknown
and to offend – I must speak,
then, against the dread
of speech. What if, hearing,
you have no reply, and mind’s
despair annul the body’s hope?
Life in time may justify
any conclusion, whenever
our will is to conclude.

IV
Look at me now. Now,
after all the years, look at me
who have no beauty apart
from what we two have been
and made. Look at me
with the look that anger
and pain have taught you,
the gaze in which nothing
is guarded, nothing withheld.

V
You look at me, you give
a light, which I bear and return,
and we are held, and all
our time is held, in this
touching look – this touch
that, pressed against the touch
returning in the dark,
is almost sight. We burn
and see by our own light.

VI
Eyes looking into eyes looking
into eyes, touches that see
in the dark, remember Paradise,
our true home. God’s image
recalls us to Itself. We move
with motion not our own,
light upon light, day and
night, sway as two trees
in the same wind sway.

VII
Let us come to no conclusion,
but let our bodies burn
in time’s timelessness. Heaven
and earth give us to this night
in which we tell each other of
a Kingdom yet to come, saying
its secret, its silent names.
We become fleshed words, one
another’s uttered joy.

VIII
Joined in our mortal motion,
we come to the resurrection
of words; they rise up
in our mouths, set free
of taints, errors, and bad luck.
In their new clarities
the leaf brightens, the air
clears, the syllables of water are
clear in the dark air as stars.

IX
We come, unsighted, in the dark,
to the great feast of lovers
where nothing is withheld.
That we are there we know
by touch, by inner sight.
They all are here, who by
their giving take, by taking
give, who by their living
love, and by loving live.

Wendell Berry