Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Poet and Contemplative

“From the abundance of his spirit [the poet] pours out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanation” (Prologue, The Spiritual Canticle).

“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).

In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.

I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.

~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

A First Serving (the poem The Dark Night)--Part One

        I've been speaking in the opening three posts of this blog—which I've called, "Setting the Table"—about the act of creation, both divine and human.  But I’ve been doing so in much too abstract a way.  It's time to get specific and look at a particular instance of, in this case, poetic creation—a well-known instance, the poem "The Dark Night" by St. John of the Cross.
        How does this poem convey its meaning?  How does it suggest or invoke something that its words reveal, yes, but cannot fully say?  How does the poet seem to have let the spirit, therefore—both the poet's own and that of the divine creator—move through him as his poem came to birth?
        I will try to bring these questions to bear, as best I can, on this poem by St. John of the Cross—a truly great specimen of the poetic art, one with exceptional spiritual and expressive power.  The translation that follows is my own.  It is not strict, but, I hope, nonetheless faithful to the original.

The Dark Night

Once on a dark night,
Restless and inflamed with love,
How happy I was
To have slipped out unseen,
My house being hushed and still.

Safe in the darkness,
Down a secret ladder, disguised,
How happy I was
That the dark concealed me,
My house being hushed and still.

On that happy night,
In secret, for no one saw me,
And I saw no one,
Having no light or guide
Than that which burned in my heart,

This light guided me
Brighter than the sun at noon
To where waited
The one I knew so well
In the place that is ours alone.

Night that guided me,
Night lovelier than the dawn,
O Night that unites
The Lover and Beloved,
Beloved made one with the Lover.

His head on my breast,
Which I’d kept for him like a flower,
There he lay sleeping,
And I caressing him,
While cedars fanned the night air.

I parted his hair
As a breeze blew from the turret,
And with his soft touch
He wounded my neck,
My senses swooning away.

All fled forgotten,
For it was I who now rested,
My face pressed to him
And every care lost,
Tossed off among the lilies.

            To be continued . . .

Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
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