[ABOVE—stained glass window depicts John of the Cross in the Saint Catharine of Siena Church (Columbus, Ohio) By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]
John of the Cross was an associate of Teresa of Avilla. Infighting among Spanish churchmen resulted in opponents seizing John of the Cross one night and imprisoning him in a Toledo dungeon. He later made a daring escape. While in prison, he wrote a number of poems. Other prisoners have done as much, but seldom have they garnered as much fame for their verses as John did for his.
Teresa pf Avilla , one of the most colorful mystics of the Medieval Period, was a Carmelite nun who struggled in prayer for nearly twenty years before she experienced a profound conversion. Reflecting a remarkable determination in her quest to know God, Teresa of Avila speaks across the centuries to those yearning for transcendence amid the distractions of life.
A kind jailer, ignoring restrictions, provided him with paper to record these creations. Among his lines were the first 31 stanzas of his Spiritual Canticle, a work loosely based on the Song of Solomon, which he had memorized.
Song of the Soul and the Bridegroom
Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.
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.
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.
O groves and thickets
Planted by the hand of the Beloved;
O verdant meads
Enameled with flowers,
Tell me, has He passed by you?
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.
Oh! who can heal me?
Give me at once Yourself,
Send me no more
Who cannot tell me what I wish.
All they who serve are telling me
Of Your unnumbered graces;
And all wound me more and more,
And something leaves me dying,
I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking.
But how you persevere, O life,
Not living where you live;
The arrows bring death
Which you receive
From your conceptions of the Beloved.
Why, after wounding
This heart, have You not healed it?
And why, after stealing it,
Have You thus abandoned it,
And not carried away the stolen prey?
Quench my troubles,
For no one else can soothe them;
And let my eyes behold You,
For You are their light,
And I will keep them for You alone.
Reveal Your presence,
And let the vision and Your beauty kill me,
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Your presence and before Your face.
O crystal well!
Oh that on Your silvered surface
You would mirror forth at once
Those eyes desired
Which are outlined in my heart!
Turn them away, O my Beloved!
I am on the wing.
Return, My Dove!
The wounded hart
Looms on the hill
In the air of your flight and is refreshed.
My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;
The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love.
Catch us the foxes,
For our vineyard has flourished;
While of roses
We make a nosegay,
And let no one appear on the hill.
O killing north wind, cease!
Come, south wind, that awakens love!
Blow through my garden,
And let its odors flow,
And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers.
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.
Hide yourself, O my Beloved!
Turn Your face to the mountains,
Do not speak,
But regard the companions
Of her who is traveling amidst strange islands.
Lions, fawns, bounding does,
Mountains, valleys, strands,
Waters, winds, heat,
And the terrors that keep watch by night;
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.