San Juan de la Cruz

Seven Spiritual Poems

St. John of the Cross.

‘St. John of the Cross.’
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664
Wikimedia Commons

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved

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Song of the Soul that Delights in Reaching the Supreme State

of perfection, that is, the union with God,

by the path of spiritual negation.

Upon a darkened night

on fire with all love’s longing

– O joyful flight! –

I left, none noticing,

my house, in silence, resting.

Secure, devoid of light,

by secret stairway, stealing

– O joyful flight! –

in darkness self-concealing,

my house, in silence, resting.

In the joy of night,

in secret so none saw me,

no object in my sight

no other light to guide me,

but what burned here inside me.

Which solely was my guide,

more surely than noon-glow,

to where he does abide,

one whom I deeply know,

a place where none did show.

O night, my guide!

O night, far kinder than the dawn!

O night that tied

the lover to the loved,

the loved in the lover there transformed!

On my flowering breast,

that breast I kept for him alone,

there he took his rest

while I regaled my own,

in lulling breezes from the cedars blown.

The breeze, from off the tower,

as I sieved through its windings

with calm hands, that hour,

my neck, in wounding,

left all my senses hanging.

Self abandoned, self forgot,

my face inclined to the beloved one:

all ceased, and I was not,

my cares now left behind, and gone:

there among the lilies all forgotten.

Verses on the Ecstasy of Deep Contemplation

I entered where there is no knowing,

and unknowing I remained,

all knowledge there transcending.


Where no knowing is I entered,

yet when I my own self saw there

without knowing where I rested

great things I understood there,

yet cannot say what I felt there,

since I rested in unknowing,

all knowledge there transcending.


Of peace and of holy good

there was perfect knowing,

in profoundest solitude

the only true way seeing,

yet so secret is the thing

that I was left here stammering,

all knowledge there transcending.


I was left there so absorbed,

so entranced, and so removed,

that my senses were abroad,

robbed of all sensation proved,

and my spirit then was moved

with an unknown knowing,

all knowledge there transcending.


He who reaches there in truth

from himself is parted though,

and all that before he knew

seems to him but base below,

his knowledge increases so

that knowledge has an ending,

all knowledge there transcending.


The higher he climbs however

the less he’ll ever understand,

because the cloud grows darker

that lit the night on every hand:

whoever visits this dark land

rests forever in unknowing,

all knowledge there transcending.


This knowledge of unknowing

is of so profound a power

that no wise men arguing

will ever supersede its hour:

their wisdom cannot reach the tower

where knowing has an ending,

all knowledge there transcending.


It is of such true excellence

this highest understanding,

no science, no human sense,

has it in its grasping,

yet he who, by self-conquering

grasps knowing in unknowing,

goes evermore transcending.


And in the deepest sense,

this highest knowledge lies,

of the divine essence,

if you would be wise:

his mercy so it does comprise,

each one leaving in unknowing,

all knowledge there transcending.

Song of the Soul in Intimate Communication of Union with God’s Love

O flame of living love,

that at its deepest centre

wounds now my soul with tenderness!

Since you no more remove,

end then, if you intend to;

tear now the veil of mutual sweetness!

O cautery so sweet!

O wound’s caress!

O soothing hand! O delicate the touching,

that signals life complete,

pays every debt,

changes death to life in its ending!

O fiery light,

in whose resplendencies

deep caves of purest feeling,

that once were eyeless night,

with rarest beauties

shed warmth and light on the loving.

How lovingly, how gently

you return now to my breast

where you live all secret and alone

and filled with virtue’s glory

how your sweetest breath

delicately pierces to the bone!

Spiritual Verses

Seeking love always

with hope that cannot falter

I flew ever higher

till I overtook my prey.


So I might seize the prey

in this divine venture

I flew ever higher

from sight was forced to stray,

yet love so far did fly

that though in my flight

I faltered in the height

I caught the prey on high.


As higher I ascended

so the hardest conquest

came about in darkness,

all my sight was dazzled:

yet since love was my prey

from blind dark a leaper

I flew on ever higher

till I overtook the prey.


In this highest game,

the further I ascended

the humbler, more subdued

more abased I became.

‘None attains it’, I did say.

I sank down lower, lower,

yet I rose higher, higher

and so I took the prey.


My one flight in strange manner

surpassed a hundred thousand

for the hope of highest heaven

attains the end it hopes for:

there hope alone did fly

unfaltering in the height:

hope, seeking in its flight,

I caught the prey on high.

Song of the Soul that Delights in Knowing God through Faith

How well I know that fountain’s rushing flow

though it is night!


That fount eternal is a hidden thing.

How well I know where its waters spring,

though it is night!


Its source I know not since it has none,

and yet every source from it does come,

though it is night.


I know that nothing is as beautiful,

of it earth and heaven there drink full,

though it is night.


I know that it is endlessly deep,

that none across those depths may leap,

though it is night.


Its clarity will never be obscured,

I know all light there has its source,

though it is night.


I know its streams so greatly swell

it waters earth, and heaven, and hell,

though it is night.


The flood that flows from out this spring,

I know is full, and conquers everything,

though it is night.


The flood that from these two proceeds

I know that neither its deep flood exceeds,

though it is night.


And this eternal fountain is concealed,

in the living bread our life to yield,

though it is night.


Here it cries aloud to every creature,

to drink of it, though dark its nature,

for it is night.


That living fount that I desire,

within the bread of life, I now admire,

though it is night.

A Gloss with Spiritual Meaning

With no aid, yet with every aid,

without light, in darkness truly,

I see myself swallowed wholly.


My soul is now severed

from each created thing,

raised on its own wing

to a life of joy forever,

God alone succouring.


The thing I most value,

from this it can be said,

is that it sees itself, my soul,

with no aid, yet with every aid.


Though darkness I endure

in this my mortal life

yet that is no strife:

though the light’s obscure

I have celestial life:

for love such existence,

if blinder, grants more fully,

the soul held in subservience

without light, in darkness truly.


Since I’ve known it, I confess,

love has worked so within me

whether all goes well or badly

all’s touched with a single sweetness,

transforming the soul inside me,

and so in its joyous flames,

those flames I feel within me,

swiftly, so naught remains,

I see myself swallowed wholly.

Verses of the Soul that Pines to See God

I live without life in me

in such manner longing

that I’m dying of not dying.


In myself I no longer live

without God I can live no longer

himself, myself, having neither,

what can it mean to live?

A thousand deaths I believe,

for my one true life longing

and so dying of not dying.


Not life, but deprivation,

is this life I am living,

and so a continual dying,

till meeting is our union.

Hear me, my God, as one,

for this now I have no liking,

that I’m dying of not dying.


If I am absent from you

what life shall I know here

except this death I suffer

the bitterest known, it’s true?

I have pity on myself too,

since my fate is such, enduring,

that I’m dying of not dying.


A fish that leaps from the water

its relief comes swift and sure,

by the death it must endure,

it is healed in death hereafter.

What death is equal to mine here?

In this pitiful life I’m living,

the more life the longer dying.


When I seek for relief too

find you in the Sacrament,

deeper sorrow to me is lent,

I cannot delight in you,

pain grips me through and through,

not seeing you in my sighing,

and so dying of not dying.


And if my Lord I delight

in hopes of seeing you

knowing that I may lose you

doubles my sorrow quite

living in such deep fright

and, as I hope, still hoping,

I die through my not dying.


Raise me from this death

my God, and grant me life:

nor condemn me to this strife

in bonds that stifle breath:

how I long to see your face,

my wretchedness so trying,

that I’m dying of not dying.


Now for death I cry

and my life lament

while in imprisonment

here for my sins I lie.

O my God, when will I

hear myself truly saying:

now I live beyond all dying?

Index of First Lines