September 23, 2004

"Songs of the Soul"

Eaves says that St. John of the Cross' description of "sitting out on the dark night with only the fire of longing in his heart" is very close to the spirituality of a scientist." Below are two translations of the 16th century Spanish Carmelite monk's poem in its entirety: the first translated by Mirabai Starr and excerpted from Dark Night of the Soul, and the second translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez and excerpted from The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross.

Songs of the Soul

On a dark night,

Inflamed by love-longing—

O exquisite risk!—

Undetected I slipped away.

My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in the darkness,

I climbed the secret ladder in disguise—

O exquisite risk!—

Concealed by the darkness.

My house, at last, grown still.

That sweet night: a secret.

Nobody saw me;

I did not see a thing.

No other light, no other guide

Than the one burning in my heart.

This light led the way

More clearly than the risen sun

To where he was waiting for me

—The one I knew so intimately—

In a place where no one could find us.

O night, that guided me!

O night, sweeter than sunrise!

O night, that joined lover with Beloved!

Lover transformed in Beloved!

Upon my blossoming breast,

Which I cultivated just for him,

He drifted into sleep,

And while I caressed him,

A cedar breeze touched the air.

Wind blew down from the tower,

Parting the locks of his hair.

With his gentle hand

He wounded my neck

And all my senses were suspended.

I lost myself. Forgot myself.

I lay my face against the Beloved's face.

Everything fell away and I left myself behind,

Abandoning my cares

Among the lilies, forgotten.


Stanzas of the Soul

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.

Copyright © 1991 ICS Publications

Share Episode

Shortened URL


is an Anglican priest and geneticist at Virginia Commonwealth University.

is a computer scientist and former theological advisor in the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab.

is an immunologist at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and a scholar of the Talmud.