Saturday, 1 September 2012

Song of the Dark Night (St. John of the Cross)

St. John of the Cross, “Song of the Dark Night”  (translated by —okei)

On a dark and windy night
With all my passions in love’s ardour pressed
O fortuitous delight!
I left without being witnessed,
My house now lying asleep in peaceful rest.

By darkness I took safe flight
Down the secret stair in concealment dressed
O fortuitous delight!
By disguise of darkness blessed
My house now lying asleep in peaceful rest.

I went out on that lucky night
Unseen I skipped in secret yearning
Not a soul crossing my sight
Without light or guide discerning
Save that flame which in my heart was burning.

This light guided me and shone
More surely than the midday sun and true
To where was waiting for me one
Who knew me well and well I knew
At that place where none appeared in view.

O dark night that was my guide!
O dark night more friendly than the dawn!
O dark night that joined the bride,
Beloved to her Lover drawn,
Lover into his Beloved re-born!

Within my flowering breast
Which entirely to him alone I swear
There he stayed in quiet rest
And all my gifts I gave him there
And the cedars too lent their breezy air.

The air down from the ramparts fanned
When I parted his hair, brushing each lock.
With the touch of his tranquil hand
In my neck I felt a shock
And all my senses stopped as still as rock.

Thoughts and memories released
Once the face upon the Lover laid.
All endeavours ceased —
Forgotten to myself I stayed,
Old cares amongst the lilies left to fade.

The last line echoes the words of Jesus:
Behold the lilies of the field; they neither spin nor weave, yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Paintings: “Monseigneur Love” by Thomas Cooper Gotch, “Solitude” by Albert Lorieux & “Blonde Nymph” by Paul Émile Chabas.

Thanks to Jon for linking Loreena McKennitt's rendition of this poem:


  1. Such a man! St John of the Cross has been an inspiration to me for years.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I heard about it, but had never heard it.

    By the way, it seems that whenever anyone posts this poem online, someone comments "oh, so he was gay then" or wondering about the likelihood of it being from the perspective of a woman slipping out for a secret tryst. But the song says quite clearly that the Lover and Beloved are transformed into each other. He slips out and becomes her... not sure if the above translation is clear enough in that respect, and it takes some getting head round to know what that means... like turning into animus / anima.

  3. A bewitching rendition, I think.

    Almost impossible to understand with the intellect, the imagery is crystal clear to the mystical mind.

    How could the lover and the beloved possibly be anything but one and the same?

  4. Yes! But I think of it more as St. John of the Cross and his anima within the same body.

    Fascinating by the way how different this is from my previous understanding of the dark night, how positive and thankful he is for it!

  5. : ))


    multiply is hanging ... not posting well at the moment.... back later!!!