The Evangelical Universalist Forum

John of the Cross - Dark Night of the Soul

Once in the dark of night,
Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose
(O coming of delight!)
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose

All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
(O coming of delight!)
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep 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 noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.

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.

The Dark Night of the soul was written by the Spanish mystic St John of the Cross. I think it is a stunning poem – although I must say that the erotic imagery taken from the Song of Solomon tradition takes time to grow on a reserved and flatulent Englishman. At first it struck me as a bit of ‘over the top’ Spanish ‘baroque and roll’; but of course this imagery is a metaphor for the intimate and personal longing of the human soul for God and vice versa – and in this poem the dominant images are of longing come to rest rather than the tangles of conflicted desire. And it is this sense of intimate restfulness that I take away from St John of the Cross’ poem, and savour.

What is the poem about? Well obviously it is about the soul drawing close to God and vice versa in intimate embrace. But the context for this embrace is the ‘dark night’. Now I know that St John of the Cross was a bit of a spiritual high stepper and that the dark night signifies a very advanced stage in the mystical way of purgation. But I’m not a spiritual specialist or elitist – so for me the poem speaks of how, in the darkest points of our life, when all seems hopeless, we are often very near to God, and to the rediscovery of grace in our lives (as fools find gold in a ruin). And I’m sure whatever St Jon of the Cross meant by the ‘dark night of the soul’ – my interpretation is part of the meaning too. So the poem is a bit like ‘Footsteps’ ('Son – I carried you’) – but a great deal better IMHO :unamused: !

:smiley: :smiley:

BY the way - Allan’s link posted above is to a beautiful seting of Dark Night of the Soul by the Canadian singer/harpist Loreena McKennitt - she’s looking quite the Pre-Raphaelite elfin child in the video. :slight_smile:

A beautiful translation. Who was the translator from the Spanish?

See also: an essay on the dark night of the soul and awakening.

Blessing for persistence!

Michael in Barcelona

Hi Michael :slight_smile:

The translation is by A.Z. Foreman – a talented young linguist (well the translation suggests his talent!). It can be found on his blog at – … -soul.html

Loreena McKennitt’s version - see video link posted by Allan – is more of an adaptation than a translation (so the poem can be made to fit her needs of a verse/chorus pattern). These are the words of her adaptation -

Upon a darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
And by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead

Oh night thou was my guide
of night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart
That fire t’was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where he waited still
it was a place where no one else could come


Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
From o’er the fortress walls
the wind would his hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow


I lost myself to him
and laid my face upon my lover’s breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the morning’s mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
there they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
there they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

The original poem goes thus –

La Noche Oscura Del Alma
San Juan De La Cruz

Cançiones del alma que se goça d’auer llegado al alto estado de la perfecçion, que es la union con Dios, por el camino de la negaçion espiritual

En una noche obscura,
con ansias en amores imflamada,
¡oh dichosa uentura!
sali sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada.

A escuras y segura,
por la secreta escala disfraçada,
¡oh dichosa uentura!
a escuras y ençelada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada.

En la noche dichosa,
en secreto, que nadie me ueya,
ni yo miraua cosa,
sin otra luz ni guia
sino la que en el coraçon ardia.

Aquesta me guiaua
mas cierto que la luz del mediodia,
adonde me esperaua
quien yo bien me sabia,
en parte donde nadie parecia.

¡Oh noche que me guiaste!
¡oh noche amable mas que el aluorada!,
¡oh noche que juntaste
amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!

Y en mi pecho florido,
que entero para el solo se guardaua,
alli quedo dormido,
y yo le regalaua,
y el ventalle de cedros ayre daua.

El ayre de la almena,
cuando ya sus cabellos esparzia,
con su mano serena
en mi cuello heria,
y todos mis sentidos suspendia.

Quedeme y oluideme,
el rostro recline sobre el amado,
ceso todo, y dexeme,
dexando mi cuidado
entre las açucenas olvidado.

Here is another poem about the dark night – this time by the seventeenth century Welsh Anglican poet Henry Vaughan -

Through that pure Virgin-shrine,
That sacred veil drawn o’er thy glorious noon
That men might look and live as glow-worms shine,
And face the moon:
Wise Nicodemus saw such light
As made him know his God by night.

      Most blest believer he!

Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes
Thy long expected healing wings could see,
When thou didst rise,
And what can never more be done,
Did at mid-night speak with the Sun!

      O who will tell me, where

He found thee at that dead and silent hour!
What hallowed solitary ground did bear
So rare a flower,
Within whose sacred leaves did lie
The fullness of the Deity.

      No mercy-seat of gold,

No dead and dusty Cherub, nor carved stone,
But his own living works did my Lord hold
And lodge alone;
Where trees and herbs did watch and peep
And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.

      Dear night! this world's defeat;

The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb;
The day of Spirits; my soul’s calm retreat
Which none disturb!
Christ’s progress, and his prayer time;
The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.

      God's silent, searching flight:

When my Lord’s head is filled with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
His still, soft call;
His knocking time; the soul’s dumb watch,
When Spirits their fair kindred catch.

      Were all my loud, evil days

Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,
Whose peace but by some Angel’s wing or voice
Is seldom rent;
Then I in Heaven all the long year
Would keep, and never wander here.

      But living where the sun

Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
To every mire,
And by this world’s ill-guiding light,
Err more than I can do by night.

      There is in God (some say)

A deep, but dazzling darkness; as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear;
O for that night! where I in him
Might live invisible and dim.

Thank you Sobornost. I think John of the Cross wrote this poem while in prison for some months in Toledo.In Despite the darkness of his cell and His Dark Night of the Soul, Light was never distant as one of his poems La Fonte shows, each verse ending with “aunque es de noche” “although 'tis night”. Translation by Allison Peers.

La Fonte …The Fount that Freely Flows.

How well I know the fount that flows
Although 'tis night.

The eternal fount its source has never showed,
But well I know wherein its abode
Although `tis night

I know that naught can be so fair´
That heav`n and earth each drink deep refreshments there
Although 'tis night

Well know I that its depths can no man plumb
Nor to the ground beneath it hope to come
Although 'tis night

Never was fount so clear. undimmed and bright,
From it alone, I know, proceeds all light,
Although 'tis night

Rich are its streams and full - this know I well;
They water nations, heav’ns and depths of hell
Although 'tis night

Yea, more I know. the stream that hence proceeds,
Omnipotent, suffices for all needs,
Although 'tis night.

From fount and stream another stream forth flows
And this I know, as powerful as those -
Although 'tis night

The eternal fount is hidden in living bread,
That we with life eternal may be fed
Although 'tis night

Here the creatures are being called
And tire of this water although in darkness
Because it is night

That living fount which I so desire
In this bread of life I see it,
Although 'tis night

Translation by Allison Peers to whom my aplogies for a more literal translation I have made of the penultimate verse (A.P. “Call’d to this living fount. we creatures still/Darkly may feed hereon and take their fill/Although 'tis night” from the Spanish “Aqui se está llamando a las criaturas/Y de esta agua se hartan,porque es de noche” ; and the two lines in the last verse! (A.P. " This living fount which is so dear to me/Is in the bread of life, which I now see", from the Spanish “Aquesta viva fuente, que deseo/En este pan de vida yo la veo”.). The verb hartarse is difficult to translate in one word. A clear example of its meaning - so harto fed up with eating so much chocolate you never want any more! There may be some disagreement on the literal translation.

A few years before lived another Spanish mystic Fray Luis de Leon imprisoned for five years whose poems are always looking upwards - although 'tis night!


Michael in Barcelona

That’s a lovely poem Michael :smiley: and the culmulative use of the refrain is very effective. Loved the translation fo teh penultimate verse - you are a proper old linguist yourself. And I’ll bet thos ewarm Psanish nigths wiht clear starry skies are seomthing to love for!

I savuor these dark night poems. One of the problems with some forms of evangelicalsim can be (in my opinion) an easy triumphalism that stifles doubt and puts a gag on admitting difficulty and despair - so I’m all for us balancing things out!

Here’s a different sort of dark night poem by Rilke -

*Mustard Seed

In spite of all the farmer’s work and worry

He can’t reach down to where the seed is slowly

Transmuted into summer. The earth bestows*

Rich Blessings


Michael - I have found a translation of a dark night poem by Fay Luis de Leon :slight_smile:

The Night Serene

When I contemplate o’er me
The heaven of stars profound,
And mark the earth before me
In darkness swathed around,—
In careless slumber and oblivion bound;

Then love and longing waken
The anguish of my soul;
Mine eyes with tears are taken
Like founts beyond control,
My voice sighs forth at last its voice of dole:—

O Temple-Seat of Glory,
Of Beauteousness and Light,
To thy calm promontory
My soul was born! What blight
Holds it endungeoned here from such a height?

What mortal aberration
Hath so estranged mankind
That from God’s destination
He turns, abandoned, blind,
To follow mocking shade and empty rind?

No thought amid his slumber
He grants impending fate,
While nights and dawns keep number
In step apportionate,
And life is filched away—his poor estate.

Alas!—arise, weak mortals,
And measure all your loss!
Begirt for deathless portals,
Can souls their birthright toss
Aside, and live on shadows vain and dross?

Oh, let your eyes beholding
Yon pure celestial sphere,
Unmask the wiles enfolding
The life that flatters here—
The little day of mingled hope and fear!

What more can base earth render
Than one poor moment’s pause,
Compared with that far Splendor
Where in its primal cause
Lives all that is—that shall be—and that was!

Who on yon constellation
Eternal can set gaze,—
Its silvery gradation,
Its majesty of ways,
The concord and proportion it displays,—

In argent Wonder turning
The moon doth nightly rove,
Squired by the Star of Learning
And melting Star of Love,
She trails with gentle retinue above—.

And lo! through outer spaces
Where Mars is rolled aflame!
Where Jupiter retraces
The calmed horizon’s frame
And all the heavens his ray beloved acclaim!

Beyond swings Saturn, father
Of the fabled age of gold;
And o’er his shoulders gather
Night’s chantries manifold,
In their proportioned grade and lustre stoled!—

Who can behold such vision
And still earth’s baubles prize?
Nor sob the last decision
To rend the bond that ties
His soul a captive from such blissful skies?

For there Content hath dwelling;
And Peace, her realm; and there
Mid joys and glories swelling
Lifts up the dais fair
With Sacred Love enthroned beyond compare.

Immensurable Beauty
Shows cloudless to that light;
And there a Sun doth duty
That knows no stain of night;
There Spring Eternal blossoms without blight.

O fields of Truth-Abiding!
Green pasturelands and rills!
And mines of treasures hiding!
O joyous-breasted hills!
Re-echoing vales where every balm distils!

            —Thomas Walsh (translator)

Hello Dick!

Wonderful how Fray de Leon was able to write such an uplifting poem from his dark dungeon cell! (3rd verse, last two lines - “que desventura la tiene en esa carcel, baja, oscura?” - “la” refers to his soul, 3rd line, so literally last two lines: “Why such misfortune to my soul in this dark. low prison”.

Am happy to see you like Spanish poetry!


Michael in Barcelona

Yes the poem is rather wonderful Michael –

I can’t speak/read Spanish but the translations do seem to convey some of the vitamins (I remember also loving the poetry of the Catalan mystic Ramon Lull when I was younger – must revisit him)
And here’s a poem about another kind of dark night of the soul written from a monastic cell by Tom Merton:

*Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your

to the living walls.

Who are you?
are you? Whose
silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.

be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”*

Thank you Dick for jogging my memory, so many years since I read Ramon Llull poems. I have one favourite Catalan poet, Salvador Espriu, who I discovered through one of his poems stuck on a Cross on top of a small mountain Puigsacalm just south of the Pyrenees about 20 years ago! I will make an attempt to translate it and post it to you.
Meanwhile, yes, how important silence can be. Lull’s poem so good and speaks to us clearly today of the need to be silent at times.
This short verse occurred to me one hectic day years ago during the rush hour catching the tube!

Shut out the noise of time
Pray you a while
Listen to the still
Quiet voice within –
Beyond the noise of time.


Michael in Barcelona

Hi Dick

Here is the Catalan poet, Salvador Espriu’s poem I mentioned to you, published in a collection of his poems written under the title La Pell de Brau in 1959/60, an appeal for reason and good sense between Madrid central government, then a dictatorship, and Cataluña, still very much a problem today in democratic Spain, but also written as a universal appeal for that and peace and freedom

Some times it is necessary and inevitable/inescapable
That a man dies for one nation
But never should it be that a nation
Die for one sole person only:
Remember that always , Sepharad.
Do as those who follow sensibly the bridges over dialogue,
And seek to understand and value
The diverse reasonings and words of your children.
That the rains may fall on sown fields softly
That the wind may pass as with an out-stretched hand
Gently and so benign above the extensive country-side.
That Sepharad may live eternally,
In order and in peace, and in work,
In hard earned and well deserved

Original in Catalan:

A vegades es necesari y forços
que un home mori per un poble
peró mai no ha de morir un poble
per un home sol:
recorda sempre aixo, Sepharad.
Fes que siguin segurs els ponts del dialeg
les raons i les parles diverses de seus fills.
Que la pluja caiggi a poc a poc en els sembrats
suau i molt benigna damunt lels amples camps.
Que Sepharad visqui etrenament
en l’ordre i en la pau, en el trball,
en la difícil i merescuda

My translation has been done quickly without any attempt at being poetic.
But even if you do not understand Catalan, reading the original aloud, you will capture its beauty and simplicity.


Michael n Barcelona

This is a beautiful poem, a lovely translation by you, with noble and universal sentiments to share Michael. It chimes well with our shared tradition of plural Anglicanism methinks. Yes Catalan does sound - to my ‘mind’s ear’ - to be a mellifluous, poetic tongue.

Thank you Michael


Dick :smiley:

Heres a poem I’ve already posted on the prayers thread - but it’s my favourite ‘dark night’ poem so I’ll put it here too. It’s by William Blake -

*It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.*

Thank you Dick. Wonderful how poets express truths in such a simple and pure form. It is amazing how joy can surface from grief. This summer on receiving the news of the death of a close friend, I found myself mixed with sadness and joy, sad at the loss, joyful thanks to this friend’s absolute certainty of beholding God’s throne, that heaven is a place for praise and adoration, that God would give plenty more opportunities to serve to His Glory. This was my friend’s certainty, and was transmitted to everyone during life and finally striving with cancer. All who knew her were able to celebrate her life with joy. But yes too we do grieve at the loss of a precious friend!


Michael in Barcelona

Thank you Michael -that’s lovely. Perhaps we should start a bright day of the soul thread.

Dick …a good idea and have already seen your Hopkins poems …excellent


michael in barcelona