Saint John of the Cross, born Juan de Yepes Álvarez

Saint John of the Cross, born Juan de Yepes Álvarez
1542
1591

Spanish Priest, Friar, Poet, Catholic Mystic, Major Figure in the Counter-Reformation

Author Quotes

Beloved, all that is harsh and difficult I want for myself, and all that is gentle and sweet for thee.

If an experience fails to engender humility, charity, mortification, holy simplicity, and silence, etc., of what value is it? In this faith God supernaturally and secretly teaches the soul and, in a way unknown to it, raises it up in virtues and gifts. When together with the words and concepts the soul is loving God and simultaneously experiencing this love with humility and reverence, there is indication that the Holy Spirit is at work within it. Whenever He bestows favors, He clothes them with this love.

It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others.

“What is grace” I asked God.

And He said,

“All that happens.”

Then He added, when I looked perplexed,

“Could not lovers
say that every moment in their Beloved’s arms
was grace?

Existence is my arms,
though I well understand how one can turn
away from
me

until the heart has
wisdom.”

My soul is a candle that burned away the veil;
only the glorious duties of light I now have.

The sufferings I knew initiated me into God.
I am a holy confessor for men.

When I see their tears running across their cheeks
and falling into
His hands,

what can I say to their great sorrow
that I too have
known.

The soul is a candle that will burn away the darkness,
only the glorious duties of love we will have.

The sufferings I knew initiated me into God.
Only His glorious cares
I now have.

THIS EARTH A BOW -

You let
my sufferings cease,
for there was no one who could cure them.

Now let my eyes behold your face for you are our only love.

My spirit’s body is rising near – this earth a bow
that shot me;

now lift me into your arms as something precious
that you dropped.

My only suffering, from this day forth,
will be your divine
beauty,

and you will constantly cure my blessed sight each time
you bring your face so near to mine
and call me
bride.

Do not be sad, my old friends; look,
these wings are finally stretched and laughing.

Our souls are rising near to you - this earth a bow that shot us;

now lift me into your arms, dear God,
like something precious that
you dropped.

SONG OF THE SOUL AND THE BRIDEGROOM
I

THE BRIDE

Where hast Thou hidden Thyself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
Thou hast fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after Thee, crying; but Thou wert gone.

II

O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

III

In search of my Love
I will go over mountains and strands;
I will gather no flowers,
I will fear no wild beasts;
And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.

IV

O groves and thickets
Planted by the hand of the Beloved;
O verdant meads
Enamelled with flowers,
Tell me, has He passed by you?

V

ANSWER OF THE CREATURES

A thousand graces diffusing
He passed through the groves in haste,
And merely regarding them
As He passed
Clothed them with His beauty.

VI

THE BRIDE

Oh! who can heal me?
Give me at once Thyself,
Send me no more
A messenger
Who cannot tell me what I wish.

VII

All they who serve are telling me
Of Thy unnumbered graces;
And all wound me more and more,
And something leaves me dying,
I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking.

VIII

But how thou perseverest, O life,
Not living where thou livest;
The arrows bring death
Which thou receivest
From thy conceptions of the Beloved.

IX

Why, after wounding
This heart, hast Thou not healed it?
And why, after stealing it,
Hast Thou thus abandoned it,
And not carried away the stolen prey?

X

Quench Thou my troubles,
For no one else can soothe them;
And let mine eyes behold Thee,
For thou art their light,
And I will keep them for Thee alone.

XI

Reveal Thy presence,
And let the vision and Thy beauty kill me,
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Thy presence and before Thy face.

XII

O crystal well!
Oh that on Thy silvered surface
Thou wouldest mirror forth at once
Those eyes desired
Which are outlined in my heart!

XIII

Turn them away, O my Beloved!
I am on the wing:

THE BRIDEGROOM

Return, My Dove!
The wounded hart
Looms on the hill
In the air of thy flight and is refreshed.

XIV

My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;

XV

The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love.

XVI

Catch us the foxes,
For our vineyard hath flourished;
While of roses
We make a nosegay,
And let no one appear on the hill.

XVII

O killing north wind, cease!
Come, south wind, that awakenest love!
Blow through my garden,
And let its odours flow,
And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers.

XVIII

O nymphs of Judea!
While amid the flowers and the rose-trees
The amber sends forth its perfume,
Tarry in the suburbs,
And touch not our thresholds.

XIX

Hide thyself, O my Beloved!
Turn Thy face to the mountains,
Do not speak,
But regard the companions
Of her who is travelling amidst strange islands.

XX

THE BRIDEGROOM

Light-winged birds,
Lions, fawns, bounding does,
Mountains, valleys, strands,
Waters, winds, heat,
And the terrors that keep watch by night;

XXI

By the soft lyres
And the siren strains, I adjure you,
Let your fury cease,
And touch not the wall,
That the bride may sleep in greater security.

XXII

The bride has entered
The pleasant and desirable garden,
And there reposes to her heart's content;
Her neck reclining
On the sweet arms of the Beloved.

XXIII

Beneath the apple-tree
There wert thou betrothed;
There I gave thee My hand,
And thou wert redeemed
Where thy mother was corrupted.

XXIV

THE BRIDE

Our bed is of flowers
By dens of lions encompassed,
Hung with purple,
Made in peace,
And crowned with a thousand shields of gold.

XXV

In Thy footsteps
The young ones run Thy way;
At the touch of the fire
And by the spiced wine,
The divine balsam flows.

XXVI

In the inner cellar
Of my Beloved have I drunk; and when I went forth
Over all the plain
I knew nothing,
And lost the flock I followed before.

XXVII

There He gave me His breasts,
There He taught me the science full of sweetness.
And there I gave to Him
Myself without reserve;
There I promised to be His bride.

XXVIII

My soul is occupied,
And all my substance in His service;
Now I guard no flock,
Nor have I any other employment:
My sole occupation is love.

XXIX

If, then, on the common land
I am no longer seen or found,
You will say that I am lost;
That, being enamoured,
I lost myself; and yet was found.

XXX

Of emeralds, and of flowers
In the early morning gathered,
We will make the garlands,
Flowering in Thy love,
And bound together with one hair of my head.

XXXI

By that one hair
Thou hast observed fluttering on my neck,
And on my neck regarded,
Thou wert captivated;
And wounded by one of my eyes.

XXXII

When Thou didst regard me,
Thine eyes imprinted in me Thy grace:
For this didst Thou love me again,
And thereby mine eyes did merit
To adore what in Thee they saw

XXXIII

Despise me not,
For if I was swarthy once
Thou canst regard me now;
Since Thou hast regarded me,
Grace and beauty hast Thou given me.

XXXIV

THE BRIDEGROOM

The little white dove
Has returned to the ark with the bough;
And now the turtle-dove
Its desired mate
On the green banks has found.

XXXV

In solitude she lived,
And in solitude built her nest;
And in solitude, alone
Hath the Beloved guided her,
In solitude also wounded with love.

XXXVI

THE BRIDE

Let us rejoice, O my Beloved!
Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty,
To the mountain and the hill,
Where the pure water flows:
Let us enter into the heart of the thicket.

XXXVII

We shall go at once
To the deep caverns of the rock
Which are all secret,
There we shall enter in
And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate.

XXXVIII

There thou wilt show me
That which my soul desired;
And there Thou wilt give at once,
O Thou, my life!
That which Thou gavest me the other day.

XXXIX

The breathing of the air,
The song of the sweet nightingale,
The grove and its beauty
In the serene night,
With the flame that consumes, and gives no pains.

XL

None saw it;
Neither did Aminadab appear
The siege was intermitted,
And the cavalry dismounted
At the sight of the waters.

A gloss (with spiritual meaning).
Without support yet with support,
living without light, in darkness,
I am wholly being consumed. 1. My soul is disentangled
from every created thing
and lifted above itself
in a life of gladness
supported only in God.
So now it can be said
that I most value this:
My soul now sees itself
without support yet with support.
And though I suffer darknesses
in this mortal life,
that is not so hard a thing;
for even if I have no light
I have the life of heaven.
For the blinder love is
the more it gives such life,
holding the soul surrendered,
living without light in darkness.

After I have known it
love works so in me
that whether things go well or badly
love turns them to one sweetness
transforming the soul in itself.
And so in its delighting flame
which I am feeling within me,
swiftly, with nothing spared,
I am wholly being consumed.
A gloss (with a spiritual meaning).
Not for all of beauty
will I ever lose myself,
but for I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly gained.

Delight in the world's good things
at the very most
can only tire the appetite
and spoil the palate;
and so, not for all of sweetness
will I ever lose myself,
but for I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly found.

The generous heart
never delays with easy things
but eagerly goes on
to things more difficult.
Nothing satisfies it,
and its faith ascends so high
that it tastes I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly found.

He who is sick with love,
whom God himself has touched,
finds his tastes so changed
that they fall away
like a fevered man's
who loathes any food he sees
and desires I-don't know-what
which is so gladly found.

Do not wonder
that the taste should be left like this,
for the cause of this sickness
differs from all others;
and so he is withdrawn
from all creatures,
and tastes I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly found.

For when once the will
is touched by God himself,
it cannot find contentment
except in the Divinity;
but since his Beauty is open
to faith alone, the will
tastes him in I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly found.

Tell me, then, would you pity
a person so in love,
who takes no delight
in all creation;
alone, mind empty of form and figure,
finding no support or foothold,
he tastes there I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly found.

Do not think that he who lives
the so-precious inner life
finds joy and gladness
in the sweetness of the earth;
but there beyond all beauty
and what is and will be and was,
he tastes I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly found.

Whoever seeks to advance
takes much more care
in what he has yet to gain
than in what he has already gained;
and so I will always tend
toward greater heights;
beyond all things, to I-don't-know- what
which is so gladly found.

I will never lose myself
for that which the senses
can take in here,
nor for all the mind can hold,
no matter how lofty,
nor for grace or beauty,
but only for I-don't-know-what
which is so gladly found.
Christmas Refrain
The Virgin, weighed
with the Word of God,
comes down the road:
if only you'll shelter her. The Sum of Perfection
Forgetfulness of created things,
remembrance of the Creator,
attention turned toward inward things,
and loving the Beloved.

I live, but not in myself,
and I have such hope
that I die because I do not

I no longer live within myself
and I cannot live without God,
for having neither him nor myself
what will life be?
It will be a thousand deaths,
longing for my true life
and dying because I do not die.

This life that I live
is no life at all,
and so I die continually
until I live with you;
hear me, my God:
I do not desire this life,
I am dying because I do not die.

When I am away from you
what life can I have
except to endure
the bitterest death known?
I pity myself,
for I go on and on living,
dying because I do not die.

A fish that leaves the water
has this relief:
the dying it endures
ends at last in death.
What death can equal my pitiable life?
For the longer I live, the more drawn out is my dying.

When I try to find relief
seeing you in the Sacrament,
I find this greater sorrow:
I cannot enjoy you wholly.
All things are affliction
since I do not see you as I desire,
and I die because I do not die.

And if I rejoice, Lord,
in the hope of seeing you,
yet seeing I can lose you
doubles my sorrow.
Living in such fear
and hoping as I hope,
I die because I do not die.

Lift me from this death,
my God, and give me life;
do not hold me bound
with these bonds so strong;
see how I long to see you;
my wretchedness is so complete
that I die because I do not die.

I will cry out for death
and mourn my living
while I am held here
for my sins.
O my God, when will it be
that I can truly say:
now I live because I do not die?

I entered into unknowing,
and there I remained unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

I entered into unknowing,
yet when I saw myself there,
without knowing where I was,
I understood great things;
I will not say what I felt
for I remained in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

That perfect knowledge
was of peace and holiness
held at no remove
in profound solitude;
it was something so secret
that I was left stammering,
transcending all knowledge.

I was so 'whelmed,
so absorbed and withdrawn,
that my senses were left
deprived of all their sensing,
and my spirit was given
an understanding while not understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

He who truly arrives there
cuts free from himself;
all that he knew before
now seems worthless,
and his knowledge so soars
that he is left in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

The higher he ascends
the less he understands,
because the cloud is dark
which lit up the night;
whoever knows this
remains always in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

This knowledge in unknowing
is so overwhelming
that wise men disputing
can never overthrow it,
for their knowledge does not reach
to the understanding of not
understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

And this supreme knowledge
is so exalted
that no power of man or learning
can grasp it;
he who masters himself
will, with knowledge in
unknowing,
always be transcending.

And if you should want to hear:
this highest knowledge lies
in the loftiest sense
of the essence of God;
this is a work of his mercy,
to leave one without
understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

The Living Flame Of Love
O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

I Live yet do not Live in Me -

I live yet do not live in me,
am waiting as my life goes by,
and die because I do not die.

No longer do I live in me,
and without God I cannot live;
to him or me I cannot give
my self, so what can living be?
A thousand deaths my agony
waiting as my life goes by,
dying because I do not die.

This life I live alone I view
as robbery of life, and so
it is a constant death -- with no
way out until I live with you.
God, hear me, what I say is true:
I do not want this life of mine,
and die because I do not die.

Being so removed from you I say
what kind of life can I have here
but death so ugly and severe
and worse than any form of pain?
I pity me -- and yet my fate
is that I must keep up this lie,
and die because I do not die.

The fish taken out of the sea
is not without a consolation:
his dying is of brief duration
and ultimately brings relief.
Yet what convulsive death can be
as bad as my pathetic life?
The more I live the more I die.

When I begin to feel relief
on seeing you in the sacrament,
I sink in deeper discontent,
deprived of your sweet company.
Now everything compels my grief:
I want -- yet can't -- see you nearby,
and die because I do not die.

Although I find my pleasure, Sir,
in hope of someday seeing you,
I see that I can lose you too,
which makes my pain doubly severe,
and so I live in darkest fear,
and hope, wait as life goes by,
dying because I do not die.

Deliver me from death, my God,
and give me life; now you have wound
a rope about me; harshly bound
I ask you to release the cord.
See how I die to see you, Lord,
and I am shattered where I lie,
dying because I do not die.

My death will trigger tears in me,
and I shall mourn my life: a day
annihilated by the way
I fail and sin relentlessly.
O Father God, when will it be
that I can say without a lie:
I live because I do not die?

The Dark Night of the Soul - 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.

That thou mayest have pleasure in everything, seek pleasure in nothing.

All the riches of the world and the glory of creation, compared with the wealth of God, are extreme and abject poverty.

For growth in virtue the important thing is to be silent and work.

The soul lives by that which it loves rather than in the body which it animates. For it has not life in the body, but rather gives it to the body and lives in that which it loves.

Think not that pleasing God lies so much in performing good works as in performing them with good will, and without attachment and respect for persons.

Author Picture
First Name
Saint John of the Cross, born Juan de Yepes Álvarez
Birth Date
1542
Death Date
1591
Bio

Spanish Priest, Friar, Poet, Catholic Mystic, Major Figure in the Counter-Reformation