Song II: The Dark Night by San Juan de la Cruz

St. John of the Cross (1656)
Francisco de Zurbarán
source Wikipedia

This poem is my fifth read for my Deal Me In Challenge 2015.

Canción II: La Noche Oscura

      De el alma que se goza de haber llegado
          Al alto estado de la perfección, que
          Es la union con Dios, por el camino
          De la negación espiritual.
1. En una noche escura,
con ansias, en amores inflamada,
¡o dichosa ventura!,
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada:
2. a escuras y segura
por la secreta escala, disfrazada,
 ¡o dichosa ventura!,
a escuras y en celada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;
3. en la noche dichosa,
en secreto, que nadie me veía,
 ni yo miraba cosa,
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.
4. Aquésta me guïaba
más cierto que la luz del mediodía,
a donde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía,
en parte donde nadie parecía.
5. ¡O noche que guiaste!,
¡o noche, amable más que el alborada!,
 ¡o noche que juntaste
Amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!
6. En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba,
allí quedó dormido,
y yo le regalaba;
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.
7. El aire de la almena,
quando yo sus cabellos esparcía,
con su mano serena
en mi cuello hería,
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.
8. Quedéme y olvidéme,
el rostro recliné sobre el amado;
cesó todo y dejéme,
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.

Song II: The Dark Night
      Of the soul that rejoices at having reached
         The high state of perfection, which
          Is the union with God, by means of the path
          Of spiritual denial of self
1.  On a dark night, deep and black,
When I, on fire with the passions of love
—- what great good fortune was mine! —
slipped out, hidden, unseen,
when my sleeping house was silent and still;
2. and protected in the dark,
concealed by the quiet, secret staircase
—- what great good fortune was mine! —
in the ebon dark, well-hidden
when my sleeping house was silent and still;
3. and on the fortunate night,
in secret, when no one’s eyes could see me,
I saw nothing around me
And had no light or guide
But the one that was blazing in my heart.
4. This was the fire that led me,
more clear and certain than the light of noon,
to where he waited for me
— I knew who he was, oh I knew —
there where no one was seen, no one appeared.
5. O dark night who guided me!
O night, kinder by far than any dawn!
O night, you who have joined
lover with beloved,
beloved into lover here transformed!
6. On my flowering bosom,
meant only for him, kept for him alone,
he rested his head to sleep,
and I with love caressed him,
and the swaying cedars sent a breeze for him.
7. The wind from the battlements
when I loosed his hair and smoothed it, unbound,
with serene and tranquil hand,
struck my neck, pierced and wounded it,
dimming and suspending all my senses.
8. I stayed there, self forgotten,
lowered my face, leaning over my lover,
all things ceased, self abandoned,
abandoning all care
that lies, forgotten, there among the lilies.

I found this poem in the book The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance to which Amanda of Simpler Pastimes kindly introduced me.  It was a “close your eyes and point” choice, yet it has turned out to be quite a fascinating poem.

St. John of the Cross was a disciple of St. Teresa of Ávila, whose biography I had recently read.  He fought to reform the Spanish Carmelites and spent a number of years in prison where he compposed the Cántico espiritual, or Spiritual Canticle, without any writing tools, having to rely solely on his memory.  
Song II: The Dark Night is part of St. John’s greater work, The Dark Night of the Soul, chronicling the spiritual journey of the soul and the stages of love that it must pass through to become more like God.  Taken out of context, this poem loses some meaning but the beauty of the words and the impact is spiritual by themselves.  Based on the biblical book, Songs of Songs, the sensual imagery St. John uses for the union of the soul and God is a stepping outside of religious tradition.  Mystic and beautiful, the poem marries the natural to the supernatural, to exemplify harmony with God.
Deal Me In Challenge #5 – Jack of Diamonds

6 thoughts on “Song II: The Dark Night by San Juan de la Cruz

  1. I enjoyed reading this poem and your post! I don't read a lot of poetry, but this makes me think I should more often.

  2. Yes, I've felt the same way for a number of years about poetry, and this challenge has made me focus more on it. It was an interesting and kind of unexpected poem. Although, now knowing a little about Teresa of Ávila, I'm perhaps not as surprised at its uniqueness.

  3. We were in Avila, Spain and they have a beautiful monument to St. John. He's really considered a great poet by secular as well as Christian scholars. The guide though said so much was lost in translation though, his poetry is so amazingly beautiful in Spanish.

  4. Oh, you were so fortunate to be able to visit Spain! I would LOVE to go there one day. Ávila would be a highlight as well as walking the Camino de Santiago.

    Fortunately I can read enough Spanish to make it through this poem, and the soul of the poem definitely comes through more in its native language. In poetry, like no other form of writing, is it so readily apparent how inadequate translation can be. But I suppose it's better to be exposed to a lovely poem in translation than to know nothing about it at all, and this one is certainly a treasure!

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