Saint John of the Cross

In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.

Born in 1542 in Fontiveros, Spain, Juan de Yepes y Alvarez, was the son of a rich merchant. His father died when he was very young, leaving his mother to raise him alone. Juan, at age 18, began to study with the Jesuits and entered the Carmelite Order in 1563. Ordained in 1567, Juan met St. Teresa of Avila, another Christian mystic and followed her lead in attempting to reform his Order. In 1568, Juan and three other friars began to live a strict monastic life in a small farmhouse. They would go barefoot as confirmation of their pledge of poverty. He changed his name to Juan de la Cruz. There was hostility from his former brothers who saw his strict discipline as a criticism of their relaxed way of life. In 1576, they had him arrested and imprisoned. It was during this period of imprisonment, Juan wrote most of his exquisite poetry. He died in 1591.

selected poems of Saint John of the Cross

The Dark Night

One dark night, fired with love's urgent longings - ah, the sheer grace! - I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled. In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, - ah, the sheer grace! - in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled. 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. 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. O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the Beloved into his Lover. 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. When the breeze blew from the turret, as I parted his hair, it wounded my neck with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses. 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.

The Living Flame Of Love

Songs of the soul in the intimate communication of loving union with God.

O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center! Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate! if it be your will: tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery, O delightful wound! O gentle hand! O delicate touch that tastes of eternal life and pays every debt! In killing you changed death to life.

O lamps of fire! in whose splendors the deep caverns of feeling, once obscure and blind, now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely, both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

The Spiritual Canticle (Redaction B)

Songs between the soul and the Bridegroom

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

Shepherds, you who go up through the sheepfolds to the hill, if by chance you see him I love most, tell him I am sick, I suffer, and I die.

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.

O woods and thickets planted by the hand of my Beloved! O green meadow, coated, bright, with flowers, tell me, has he passed by you?

Pouring out a thousand graces, he passed these groves in haste; and having looked at them, with his image alone, clothed them in beauty.

Ah, who has the power to heal me? Now wholly surrender yourself! Do not send me any more messengers; they cannot tell me what I must hear.

All who are free tell me a thousand graceful things of you; all wound me more and leave me dying of, ah, I-don't-know-what behind their stammering.

How do you endure O life, not living where you live, and being brought near death by the arrows you receive from that which you conceive of your Beloved?

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?

Extinguish these miseries, since no one else can stamp them out; and may my eyes behold you, because you are their light, and I would open them to you alone.

Reveal your presence and may the vision of your beauty be my death; for the sickness of love is not cured except by your very presence and image.

O spring like crystal!
If only, on your silvered-over faces, you would suddenly form the eyes I have desired, which I bear sketched deep within my heart.

Withdraw them, Beloved, I am taking flight! Bridegroom - Return, dove, the wounded stag is in sight on the hill, cooled by the breeze of your flight.

The Bride My Beloved, the mountains, and lonely wooded valleys, strange islands, and resounding rivers, the whistling of love-stirring breezes,

the tranquil night at the time of the rising dawn, silent music, sounding solitude, the supper that refreshes and deepens love.

Catch us the foxes, for our vineyard is now in flower, while we fashion a cone of roses intricate as the pine's; and let no one appear on the hill.

Be still, deadening north wind; south wind, come, you that waken love, breathe through my garden, let its fragrance flow, and the Beloved will feed amid the flowers.

You girls of Judea, while among flowers and roses the amber spreads its perfume, stay away, there on the outskirts: do not so much as seek to touch our thresholds.

Hide yourself, my love; turn your face toward the mountains, and do not speak; but look at those companions going with her through strange islands.

Bridegroom Swift-winged birds, lions, stags, and leaping roes, mountains, lowlands, and river banks, waters, winds, and ardors, watching fears of night:

By the pleasant lyres and the siren's song, I conjure you to cease your anger and not touch the wall, that the bride may sleep in deeper peace.

The bride has entered the sweet garden of her desire, and she rests in delight, laying her neck on the gentle arms of her Beloved.

Beneath the apple tree: there I took you for my own, there I offered you my hand, and restored you, where your mother was corrupted.

Bride Our bed is in flower, bound round with linking dens of lions, hung with purple, built up in peace, and crowned with a thousand shields of gold.

Following your footprints maidens run along the way; the touch of a spark, the spiced wine, cause flowings in them from the balsam of God.

In the inner wine cellar I drank of my Beloved, and, when I went abroad through all this valley, I no longer knew anything, and lost the herd that I was following.

There he gave me his breast; there he taught me a sweet and living knowledge; and I gave myself to him, keeping nothing back; there I promised to be his bride.

Now I occupy my soul and all my energy in his service; I no longer tend the herd, nor have I any other work now that my every act is love.

If, then, I am no longer seen or found on the common, you will say that I am lost; that, stricken by love, I lost myself, and was found.

With flowers and emeralds chosen on cool mornings we shall weave garlands flowering in your love, and bound with one hair of mine.

You considered that one hair fluttering at my neck; you gazed at it upon my neck and it captivated you; and one of my eyes wounded you.

When you looked at me your eyes imprinted your grace in me; for this you loved me ardently; and thus my eyes deserved to adore what they beheld in you.

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.

Bridegroom The small white dove has returned to the ark with an olive branch; and now the turtledove has found its longed-for mate by the green river banks.

She lived in solitude, and now in solitude has built her nest; and in solitude he guides her, he alone, who also bears in solitude the wound of love.

Bride Let us rejoice, Beloved, and let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty, to the mountain and to the hill, to where the pure water flows, and further, deep into the thicket.

And then we will go on to the high caverns in the rock that are so well concealed; there we shall enter and taste the fresh juice of the pomegranates.

There you will show me what my soul has been seeking, and then you will give me, you, my life, will give me there what you gave me on that other day:

the breathing of the air, the song of the sweet nightingale; the grove and its living beauty in the serene night, with a flame that is consuming and painless.

No one looked at her, nor did Aminadab appear; the siege was still; and the cavalry, at the sight of the waters, descended.

Copyright ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included. All of the poems of St John of the Cross are available in the Collected Works, available from ICS.

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