For All the Saints: John of the Cross

Today is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. Born in 1542, he was a contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila and a practitioner of contemplative prayer. He is considered one of the foremost poets of Spain. And yet, it is said that he only wrote about 2500 lines of verse. He died on this date at the age of 49 in the year 1591.

Pope Pius the XI declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His two great poems are entitled Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul. I first ran across St. John when reading Thomas Merton’s works. Fr. Robert Barron, and Fr. Steve Grunow of Word on Fire share thoughts on this remarkable saint at the site of his tomb in Segovia, Spain. Take a look,

The best translation of Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross that I’ve ever read is by an almost anonymous blogger named A.Z. Foreman, or “A.Z.F.”

Enjoy!

Dark Night of the Soul

Songs of the soul rejoicing at having achieved the high state of perfection, the Union with God, by way of spiritual negation.

Once in the dark of night
When love ignited me, I yearned and rose
(O stroke of sheer delight!)
And went though no one knows,
Leaving behind a house in cold repose.

In darkness all went right.
By secret ladders, in clandestine clothes,
(O stroke of sheer delight!)
In darkness I arose
Leaving behind a house in cold repose.

And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.

It guided me and shone
Surer than sunlight in the noonday blue
And lead me to the one,
The one I truly knew
Who waited with nobody else in view.

O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
A lover and loved one moved in unison.

And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.

And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.


I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.

A full account of the life and work of St. John of the Cross can be found at Doctors of the Catholic Church. And for perspective on this saint from my Chinese Catholic friend John C.H. Wu, see last years post as well.


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