Oh guiding night!

Thursday is the feast of my favorite saint, the 16th century Spanish mystic, John of the Cross, who gave us the memorable phrase, the dark night of the soul.

I have gathered some material on John (including a fuller biography than the one linked to above) and hope to parcel it out over the next few days in such a way that my readers decide as one to become secular Carmelites (sorry about the music at this link.)

Let’s begin with his most famous poem, Stanzas of the Soul. The spiritual treatise, The Dark Night of the Soul (also available here) is an interpretation of this poem.

The first translation from the Spanish is by William Whitson, the second by the Revs. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, ODC.

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!—

I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!—

In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,

Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday

To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,

Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,

There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;

With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved.

All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.


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 in her 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

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