INASMUCH as this canticle seems to have been written with some fervour of love of God, whose wisdom and love are, as is said in the book of Wisdom, [9] so vast that they reach 'from end unto end,' and as the soul, taught and moved by Him, manifests the same abundance and strength in the words it uses, I do not purpose here to set forth all that greatness and fulness the spirit of love, which is fruitful, embodies in it. Yea, rather it would be foolishness to think that the language of love and the mystical intelligence--and that is what these stanzas are--can be at all explained in words of any kind, for the Spirit of our Lord who helps our weakness--as St. Paul saith [10]--dwelling in us makes petitions for us with groaning unutterable for that which we cannot well understand or grasp so as to be able to make it known. 'The Spirit helpeth our infirmity . . . the Spirit Himself requesteth for us with groanings unspeakable.' For who can describe that which He shows to loving souls in whom He dwells? Who can set forth in words that which He makes them feel? and, lastly, who can explain that for which they long?

2. Assuredly no one can do it; not even they themselves who experience it. That is the reason why they use figures of special comparisons and similitudes; they hide somewhat of that which they feel and in the abundance of the Spirit utter secret mysteries rather than express themselves in clear words.

3. And if these similitudes be not received in the simplicity of a loving mind, and in the sense in which they are uttered, they will seem to be effusions of folly rather than the language of reason; as any one may see in the divine Canticle of Solomon, and in others of the sacred books, wherein the Holy Ghost, because ordinary and common speech could not convey His meaning, uttered His mysteries in strange terms and similitudes. It follows from this, that after all that the holy doctors have said, and may say, no words of theirs can explain it; nor can words do it; and so, in general, all that is said falls far short of the meaning.

4. The stanzas that follow having been written under influence of that love which proceeds from the overflowing mystical intelligence, cannot be fully explained. Indeed I do not purpose any such thing, for my sole object is to throw some general light over them, which in my opinion is the better course. It is better to leave the outpourings of love in their own fulness, that every one may apply them according to the measure of his spirit and power, than to pare them down to one particular sense which is not suited to the taste of every one. And though I do put forth a particular explanation, still others are not to be bound by it. The mystical wisdom--that is, the love, of which these stanzas speak--does not require to be distinctly understood in order to produce the effect of love and tenderness in the soul, for it is in this respect like faith, by which we love God without a clear comprehension of Him.

5. I shall therefore be very concise, though now and then unable to avoid some prolixity where the subject requires it, and when the opportunity is offered of discussing and explaining certain points and effects of prayer: many of which being referred to in these stanzas, I must discuss some of them. I shall, however, pass over the more ordinary ones, and treat briefly of the more extraordinary to which they are subject who, by the mercy of God, have advanced beyond the state of beginners. This I do for two reasons: the first is, that much is already written concerning beginners; and the second is, that I am addressing those who have received from our Lord the grace of being led on from the elementary state and are led inwards to the bosom of His divine love.

6. I therefore trust, though I may discuss some points of scholastic theology relating to the interior commerce of the soul with God, that I am not using such language altogether in vain, and that it will be found profitable for pure spirituality. For though some may be altogether ignorant of scholastic theology by which the divine verities are explained, yet they are not ignorant of mystical theology, the science of love, by which those verities are not only learned, but at the same time are relished also.

7. And in order that what I am going to say may be the better received, I submit myself to higher judgments, and unreservedly to that of our holy mother the Church, intending to say nothing in reliance on my own personal experience, or on what I have observed in other spiritual persons, nor on what I have heard them say-- though I intend to profit by all this--unless I can confirm it with the sanction of the divine writings, at least on those points which are most difficult of comprehension.

8. The method I propose to follow in the matter is this: first of all, to cite the words of the text and then to give that explanation of them which belongs to the subject before me. I shall now transcribe all the stanzas and place them at the beginning of this treatise. In the next place, I shall take each of them separately, and explain them line by line, each line in its proper place before the explanation.





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.


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 Enamelled with flowers, Tell me, has He passed by you?



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 Thyself, Send me no more A messenger Who cannot tell me what I wish.


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.


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


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?


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.


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.


O crystal well! Oh that on Thy silvered surface Thou wouldest 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 thy 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 hath 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 awakenest love! Blow through my garden, And let its odours 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 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.



Light-winged birds, 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.


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.


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



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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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



These stanzas describe the career of a soul from its first entrance on the service of God till it comes to the final state of perfection--the spiritual marriage. They refer accordingly to the three states or ways of the spiritual training--the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways, some properties and effects of which they explain.

The first stanzas relate to beginners--to the purgative way. The second to the advanced--to the state of spiritual betrothal; that is, the illuminative way. The next to the unitive way--that of the perfect, the spiritual Marriage. The unitive way, that of the perfect, follows the illuminative, which is that of the advanced.

The last stanzas treat of the beatific state, which only the already perfect soul aims at.





THE soul, considering the obligations of its state, seeing that 'the days of man are short;' [11] that the way of eternal life is strait; [12] that 'the just man shall scarcely be saved;' [13] that the things of this world are empty and deceitful; that all die and perish like water poured on the ground; [14] that time is uncertain, the last account strict, perdition most easy, and salvation most difficult; and recognising also, on the other hand, the great debt that is owing to God, Who has created it solely for Himself, for which the service of its whole life is due, Who has redeemed it for Himself alone, for which it owes Him all else, and the correspondence of its will to His love; and remembering other innumerable blessings for which it acknowledges itself indebted to God even before it was born: and also that a great part of its life has been wasted, and that it will have to render an account of it all from beginning unto the end, to the payment of 'the last farthing,' [15] when God shall 'search Jerusalem with lamps;' [16] that it is already late, and perhaps the end of the day: [17] in order to remedy so great an evil, especially when it is conscious that God is grievously offended, and that He has hidden His face from it, because it would forget Him for the creature,–the soul, now touched with sorrow and inward sinking of the heart at the sight of its imminent risks and ruin, renouncing everything and casting them aside without delaying for a day, or even an hour, with fear and groanings uttered from the heart, and wounded with the love of God, begins to invoke the Beloved and says:



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

IN this first stanza the soul, enamoured of the Word, the Son of God, the Bridegroom, desiring to be united to Him in the clear and substantial vision, sets before Him the anxieties of its love, complaining of His absence. And this the more so because, now pierced and wounded with love, for which it had abandoned all things, even itself, it has still to endure the absence of the Beloved, Who has not released it from its mortal flesh, that it might have the fruition of Him in the glory of eternity. Hence it cries out,

'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?'

2. It is as if the soul said, 'Show me, O Thou the Word, my Bridegroom, the place where Thou art hidden.' It asks for the revelation of the divine Essence; for the place where the Son of God is hidden is, according to St. John, 'the bosom of the Father,' [18] which is the divine Essence, transcending all mortal vision, and hidden from all human understanding, as Isaias saith, speaking to God, 'Verily Thou art a hidden God.' [19] From this we learn that the communication and sense of His presence, however great they may be, and the most sublime and profound knowledge of God which the soul may have in this life, are not God essentially, neither have they any affinity with Him, for in very truth He is still hidden from the soul; and it is therefore expedient for it, amid all these grandeurs, always to consider Him as hidden, and to seek Him in His hiding-place, saying,

'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?'

3. Neither sublime communications nor sensible presence furnish any certain proof of His gracious presence; nor is the absence thereof, and aridity, any proof of His absence from the soul. 'If He come to me, I shall not see Him; if He depart, I shall not understand.' [20] That is, if the soul have any great communication, or impression, or spiritual knowledge, it must not on that account persuade itself that what it then feels is to enjoy or see God clearly and in His Essence, or that it brings it nearer to Him, or Him to it, however deep such feelings may be. On the other hand, when all these sensible and spiritual communications fail it, and it is itself in dryness, darkness, and desolation, it must not on that account suppose that God is far from it; for in truth the former state is no sign of its being in a state of grace, nor is the latter a sign that it is not; for 'man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred' [21] in the sight of God.

4. The chief object of the soul in these words is not to ask only for that affective and sensible devotion, wherein there is no certainty or evidence of the possession of the Bridegroom in this life; but principally for that clear presence and vision of His Essence, of which it longs to be assured and satisfied in the next. This, too, was the object of the bride who, in the divine song desiring to be united to the Divinity of the Bridegroom Word, prayed to the Father, saying, 'Show me where Thou feedest, where Thou liest in the midday.' [22] For to ask to be shown the place where He fed was to ask to be shown the Essence of the Divine Word, the Son; because the Father feedeth nowhere else but in His only begotten Son, Who is the glory of the Father. In asking to be shown the place where He lieth in the midday, was to ask for the same thing, because the Son is the sole delight of the Father, Who lieth in no other place, and is comprehended by no other thing, but in and by His beloved Son, in Whom He reposeth wholly, communicating to Him His whole Essence, in the 'midday,' which is eternity, where the Father is ever begetting and the Son ever begotten.

5. This pasture, then, is the Bridegroom Word, where the Father feedeth in infinite glory. He is also the bed of flowers whereupon He reposes with infinite delight of love, profoundly hidden from all mortal vision and every created thing. This is the meaning of the bride-soul when she says,

'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?'

6. That the thirsty soul may find the Bridegroom, and be one with Him in the union of love in this life--so far as that is possible-- and quench its thirst with that drink which it is possible to drink of at His hands in this life, it will be as well--since that is what the Soul asks of Him--that We should answer for Him, and point out the special spot where He is hidden, that He may be found there in that perfection and sweetness of which this life is capable, and that the soul may not begin to loiter uselessly in the footsteps of its companions.

7. We must remember that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, is hidden in essence and in presence, in the inmost being of the soul. That soul, therefore, that will find Him, must go out from all things in will and affection, and enter into the profoundest self-recollection, and all things must be to it as if they existed not. Hence, St. Augustine saith: 'I found Thee not without, O Lord; I sought Thee without in vain, for Thou art within,' [23] God is therefore hidden within the soul, and the true contemplative will seek Him there in love, saying,

'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?'

8. O thou soul, then, most beautiful of creatures, who so longest to know the place where thy Beloved is, that thou mayest seek Him, and be united to Him, thou knowest now that thou art thyself that very tabernacle where He dwells, the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden. Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all thy good and all thy hope is so near thee as to be within thee; or, to speak more accurately, that thou canst not be without it, 'for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.' [24] So saith the Bridegroom Himself, and His servant, St. Paul, adds: 'You are the temple of the living God.' [25] What joy for the soul to learn that God never abandons it, even in mortal sin; how much less in a state of grace! [26]

9. What more canst thou desire, what more canst thou seek without, seeing that within thou hast thy riches, thy delight, thy satisfaction, thy fulness and thy kingdom; that is, thy Beloved, Whom thou desirest and seekest? Rejoice, then, and be glad in Him with interior recollection, seeing that thou hast Him so near. Then love Him, then desire Him, then adore Him, and go not to seek Him out of thyself, for that will be but distraction and weariness, and thou shalt not find Him; because there is no fruition of Him more certain, more ready, or more intimate than that which is within.

10. One difficulty alone remains: though He is within, yet He is hidden. But it is a great matter to know the place of His secret rest, that He may be sought there with certainty. The knowledge of this is that which thou askest for here, O soul, when with loving affection thou criest,

'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?'

11. You will still urge and say, How comes it, then, that I find Him not, nor feel Him, if He is within my soul? It is because He is hidden, and because thou hidest not thyself also that thou mayest find Him and feel Him; for he that will seek that which is hidden must enter secretly into the secret place where it is hidden, and when he finds it, he is himself hidden like the object of his search. Seeing, then, that the Bridegroom whom thou lovest is 'the treasure hidden in the field' [27] of thy soul, for which the wise merchant gave all that he had, so thou, if thou wilt find Him, must forget all that is thine, withdraw from all created things, and hide thyself in the secret retreat of the spirit, shutting the door upon thyself--that is, denying thy will in all things--and praying to thy Father in secret. [28] Then thou, being hidden with Him, wilt be conscious of His presence in secret, and wilt love Him, possess Him in secret, and delight in Him in secret, in a way that no tongue or language can express.

12. Courage, then, O soul most beautiful, thou knowest now that thy Beloved, Whom thou desirest, dwelleth hidden within thy breast; strive, therefore, to be truly hidden with Him, and then thou shalt embrace Him, and be conscious of His presence with loving affection. Consider also that He bids thee, by the mouth of Isaias, to come to His secret hiding-place, saying, Go, . . . enter into thy chambers, shut thy doors upon thee'; that is, all thy faculties, so that no created thing shall enter: 'be hid a little for a moment,' [29] that is, for the moment of this mortal life; for if now during this life which is short, thou wilt 'with all watchfulness keep thy heart,' [30] as the wise man saith, God will most assuredly give thee, as He hath promised by the prophet Isaias, 'hidden treasures and mysteries of secrets.' [31] The substance of these secrets is God Himself, for He is the substance of the faith, and the object of it, and the faith is the secret and the mystery. And when that which the faith conceals shall be revealed and made manifest, that is the perfection of God, as St. Paul saith, 'When that which is perfect is come,' [32] then shall be revealed to the soul the substance and mysteries of these secrets.

13. Though in this mortal life the soul will never reach to the interior secrets as it will in the next, however much it may hide itself, still, if it will hide itself with Moses, 'in the hole of the rock'--which is a real imitation of the perfect life of the Bridegroom, the Son of God--protected by the right hand of God, it will merit the vision of the 'back parts'; [33] that is, it will reach to such perfection here, as to be united, and transformed by love, in the Son of God, its Bridegroom. So effectually will this be wrought that the soul will feel itself so united to Him, so learned and so instructed in His secrets, that, so far as the knowledge of Him in this life is concerned, it will be no longer necessary for it to say: 'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?'

14. Thou knowest then, O soul, how thou art to demean thyself if thou wilt find the Bridegroom in His secret place. But if thou wilt hear it again, hear this one word full of substance and unapproachable truth: Seek Him in faith and love, without seeking to satisfy thyself in aught, or to understand more than is expedient for thee to know; for faith and love are the two guides of the blind; they will lead thee, by a way thou knowest not, to the secret chamber of God. Faith, the secret of which I am speaking, is the foot that journeys onwards to God, and love is the guide that directs its steps. And while the soul meditates on the mysterious secrets of the faith, it will merit the revelation, on the part of love, of that which the faith involves, namely, the Bridegroom Whom it longs for, in this life by spiritual grace, and the divine union, as we said before, [34] and in the next in essential glory, face to face, hidden now.

15. But meanwhile, though the soul attains to union, the highest state possible in this life, yet inasmuch as He is still hidden from it in the bosom of the Father, as I have said, the soul longing for the fruition of Him in the life to come, ever cries, 'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?'

16. Thou doest well, then, O soul, in seeking Him always in His secret place; for thou greatly magnifiest God, and drawest near unto Him, esteeming Him as far beyond and above all thou canst reach. Rest, therefore, neither wholly nor in part, on what thy faculties can embrace; never seek to satisfy thyself with what thou comprehendest of God, but rather with what thou comprehendest not; and never rest on the love of, and delight in, that which thou canst understand and feel, but rather on that which is beyond thy understanding and feeling: this is, as I have said, to seek Him by faith.

17. God is, as I said before, [35] inaccessible and hidden, and though it may seem that thou hast found Him, felt Him, and comprehended Him, yet thou must ever regard Him as hidden, serve Him as hidden, in secret. Be not thou like many unwise, who, with low views of God, think that when they cannot comprehend Him, or be conscious of His presence, that He is then farther away and more hidden, when the contrary is true, namely, that He is nearer to them when they are least aware of it; as the prophet David saith, 'He put darkness His covert,' [36] Thus, when thou art near unto Him, the very infirmity of thy vision makes the darkness palpable; thou doest well, therefore, at all times, in prosperity as well as in adversity, spiritual or temporal, to look upon God as hidden, and to say unto Him, 'Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?

'And left me to my sorrow, O my Beloved?'

18. The soul calls Him 'my Beloved,' the more to move Him to listen to its cry, for God, when loved, most readily listens to the prayer of him who loves Him. Thus He speaks Himself: 'If you abide in Me . . . you shall ask what thing soever you will, and it shall be done to you.' [37] The soul may then with truth call Him Beloved, when it is wholly His, when the heart has no attachments but Him, and when all the thoughts are continually directed to Him. It was the absence of this that made Delila say to Samson, 'How dost thou say thou lovest me when thy mind is not with me?' [38] The mind comprises the thoughts and the feelings. Some there are who call the Bridegroom their Beloved, but He is not really beloved, because their heart is not wholly with Him. Their prayers are, therefore, not so effectual before God, and they shall not obtain their petitions until, persevering in prayer, they fix their minds more constantly upon God and their hearts more wholly in loving affection upon Him, for nothing can be obtained from God but by love.

19. The words, 'And left me to my sorrow,' tell us that the absence of the Beloved is the cause of continual sadness in him who loves; for as such an one loves none else, so, in the absence of the object beloved, nothing can console or relieve him. This is, therefore, a test to discern the true lover of God. Is he satisfied with anything less than God? Do I say satisfied? Yea, if a man possess all things, he cannot be satisfied; the greater his possessions the less will be his satisfaction, for the satisfaction of the heart is not found in possessions, but in detachment from all things and in poverty of spirit. This being so, the perfection of love in which we possess God, by a grace most intimate and special, lives in the soul in this life when it has reached it, with a certain satisfaction, which however is not full, for David, notwithstanding all his perfection, hoped for that in heaven saying, 'I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear.' [39]

20. Thus, then, the peace and tranquillity and satisfaction of heart to which the soul may attain in this life are not sufficient to relieve it from its groaning, peaceful and painless though it be, while it hopes for that which is still wanting. Groaning belongs to hope, as the Apostle says of himself and others, though perfect, 'Ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God.' [40] The soul groans when the heart is enamoured, for where love wounds there is heard the groaning of the wounded one, complaining feelingly of the absence of the Beloved, especially when, after tasting of the sweet converse of the Bridegroom, it finds itself suddenly alone, and in aridity, because He has gone away. That is why it cries,

'Thou hast fled like the hart.'

21. Here it is to be observed that in the Canticle of Canticles the bride compares the Bridegroom to the roe and the hart on the mountains--'My Beloved is like unto a roe and to a fawn of harts' [41]--not only because He is shy, solitary, and avoids companions as the hart, but also for his sudden appearance and disappearance. That is His way in His visits to devout souls in order to comfort and encourage them, and in the withdrawing and absence which He makes them feel after those visits in order to try, humble, and teach them. For that purpose He makes them feel the pain of His absence most keenly, as the following words show:

'Having wounded me.'

22. It is as if it had said, 'It was not enough that I should feel the pain and grief which Thy absence causes, and from which I am continually suffering, but Thou must, after wounding me with the arrow of Thy love, and increasing my longing and desire to see Thee, run away from me with the swiftness of the hart, and not permit me to lay hold of Thee, even for a moment.'

23. For the clearer understanding of this we are to keep in mind that, beside the many kinds of God's visits to the soul, in which He wounds it with love, there are commonly certain secret touches of love, which, like a fiery arrow, pierce and penetrate the soul, and burn it with the fire of love. These are properly called the wounds of love, and it is of these the soul is here speaking. These wounds so inflame the will, that the soul becomes so enveloped with the fire of love as to appear consumed thereby. They make it go forth out of itself, and be renewed, and enter on another life, as the phoenix from the fire.

24. David, speaking of this, saith, 'My heart hath been inflamed, and my reins have been changed; and I am brought to nothing, and I knew not.' [42] The desires and affections, called the reins by the prophet, are all stirred and divinely changed in this burning of the heart, and the soul, through love, melted into nothing, knowing nothing but love. At this time the changing of the reins is a great pain, and longing for the vision of God; it seems to the soul that God treats it with intolerable severity, so much so that the severity with which love treats it seems to the soul unendurable, not because it is wounded--for it considers such wounds to be its salvation--but because it is thus suffering from its love, and because He has not wounded it more deeply so as to cause death, that it may be united to Him in the life of perfect love. The soul, therefore, magnifying its sorrows, or revealing them, says,

'Having wounded me.'

25. The soul says in effect, 'Thou hast abandoned me after wounding me, and Thou hast left me dying of love; and then Thou hast hidden Thyself as a hart swiftly running away.' This impression is most profound in the soul; for by the wound of love, made in the soul by God, the affections of the will lead most rapidly to the possession of the Beloved, whose touch it felt, and as rapidly also, His absence, and its inability to have the fruition of Him here as it desires. Thereupon succeed the groaning because of His absence; for these visitations of God are not like those which recreate and satisfy the soul, because they are rather for wounding than for healing--more for afflicting than for satisfying it, seeing that they tend rather to quicken the knowledge, and increase the longing, and consequently pain with the longing for the vision of God. They are called the spiritual wounds of love, most sweet to the soul and desirable; and, therefore, when it is thus wounded the soul would willingly die a thousand deaths, because these wounds make it go forth out of itself, and enter into God, which is the meaning of the words that follow:

'I ran after Thee, crying; but Thou wert gone.'

26. There can be no remedy for the wounds of love but from Him who inflicted them. And so the wounded soul, urged by the vehemence of that burning which the wounds of love occasion, runs after the Beloved, crying unto Him for relief. This spiritual running after God has a two-fold meaning. The first is a going forth from all created things, which is effected by hating and despising them; the second, a going forth out of oneself, by forgetting self, which is brought about by the love of God. For when the love of God touches the soul with that vividness of which we are here speaking, it so elevates it, that it goes forth not only out of itself by self-forgetfulness, but it is also drawn away from its own judgment, natural ways and inclinations, crying after God, 'O my Bridegroom,' as if saying, 'By this touch of Thine and wound of love hast Thou drawn me away not only from all created things, but also from myself--for, in truth, soul and body seem now to part-- and raised me up to Thyself, crying after Thee in detachment from all things that I might be attached to Thee:

'Thou wert gone.'

27. As if saying, 'When I sought Thy presence, I found Thee not; and I was detached from all things without being able to cling to Thee--borne painfully by the gales of love without help in Thee or in myself.’ This going forth of the soul in search of the Beloved is the rising of the bride in the Canticle: 'I will rise and go about the city; in the streets and the high ways I will seek Him Whom my soul loveth. I have sought Him and have not found . . . they wounded me.' [43] The rising of the bride--speaking spiritually--is from that which is mean to that which is noble; and is the same with the going forth of the soul out of its own ways and inferior love to the ennobling love of God. The bride says that she was wounded because she found him not; [44] so the soul also says of itself that it is wounded with love and forsaken; that is, the loving soul is ever in pain during the absence of the Beloved, because it has given itself up wholly unto Him hoping for the reward of its self-surrender, the Possession of the Beloved. Still the Beloved withholds Himself while the soul has lost all things, and even itself, for Him; it obtains no compensation for its loss, seeing that it is deprived of Him whom it loveth.

28. This pain and sense of the absence of God is wont to be so oppressive in those who are going onwards to the state of perfection, that they would die if God did not interpose when the divine wounds are inflicted upon them. As they have the palate of the will wholesome, and the mind pure and disposed for God, and as they taste in some degree of the sweetness of divine love, which they supremely desire, so they also suffer supremely; for, having but a glimpse of an infinite good which they are not permitted to enjoy, that is to them an ineffable pain and torment.


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

THE soul would now employ intercessors and mediators between itself and the Beloved, praying them to make its sufferings and afflictions known. One in love, when he cannot converse personally with the object of his love, will do so in the best way he can. Thus the soul employs its affections, desires, and groanings as messengers well able to manifest the secret of its heart to the Beloved. Accordingly, it calls upon them to do this, saying:

'O shepherds, you who go.'

2. The shepherds are the affections, and desires, and groanings of the soul, for they feed it with spiritual good things. A shepherd is one who feeds: and by means of such God communicates Himself to the soul and feeds it in the divine pastures; for without these groans and desires He communicates but slightly with it.

'You who go.'

You who go forth in pure love; for all desires and affections do not reach God, but only those which proceed from sincere love.

'Through the sheepcots up the hill.'

3. The sheepcots are the heavenly hierarchies, the angelic choirs, by whose ministry, from choir to choir, our prayers and sighs ascend to God; that is, to the hill, 'for He is the highest eminence, and because in Him, as on a hill, we observe and behold all things, the higher and the lower sheepcots.’ To Him our prayers ascend, offered by angels, as I have said; so the angel said to Tobias 'When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead . . . I offered thy prayer to the Lord.' [45]

4. The shepherds also are the angels themselves, who not only carry our petitions to God, but also bring down the graces of God to our souls, feeding them like good shepherds, with the sweet communications and inspirations of God, Who employs them in that ministry. They also protect us and defend us against the wolves, which are the evil spirits. And thus, whether we understand the affections or the angels by the shepherds, the soul calls upon both to be its messengers to the Beloved, and thus addresses them all:

'If you shall see Him,'

That is to say:

5. If, to my great happiness you shall come into His presence, so that He shall see you and hear your words. God, indeed, knoweth all things, even the very thoughts of the soul, as He said unto Moses, [46] but it is then He beholds our necessities when He relieves them, and hears our prayers when he grants them. God does not see all necessities and hear all petitions until the time appointed shall have come; it is then that He is said to hear and see, as we learn in the book of Exodus. When the children of Israel had been afflicted for four hundred years as serfs in Egypt, God said unto Moses, 'I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry, and . . . I am come down to deliver them.' [47] And yet He had seen it always. So also St. Gabriel bade Zacharias not to fear, because God had heard his prayer, and would grant him the son, for whom he had been praying for many years; [48] yet God had always heard him. Every soul ought to consider that God, though He does not at once help us and grant our petitions, will still succour us in His own time, for He is, as David saith, 'a helper in due time in tribulation,' [49] if we do not become faint-hearted and cease to pray. This is what the soul means by saying, 'If you shall see Him'; that is to say, if the time is come when it shall be His good pleasure to grant my petitions.

6. 'Whom I love the most': that is, whom I love more than all creatures. This is true of the soul when nothing can make it afraid to do and suffer all things in His service. And when the soul can also truly say that which follows, it is a sign that it loves Him above all things:

'Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.'

7. Here the soul speaks of three things that distress it: namely, languor, suffering, and death; for the soul that truly loves God with a love in some degree perfect, suffers in three ways in His absence, in its three powers ordinarily--the understanding, the will, and the memory. In the understanding it languishes because it does not see God, Who is the salvation of it, as the Psalmist saith: 'I am thy salvation.' [50] In the will it suffers, because it possesses not God, Who is its comfort and delight, as David also saith: 'Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure.' [51] In the memory it dies, because it remembers its privation of all the blessings of the understanding, which are the vision of God, and of the delights of the will, which are the fruition of Him, and that it is very possible also that it may lose Him for ever, because of the dangers and chances of this life. In the memory, therefore, the soul labours under a sensation like that of death, because it sees itself without the certain and perfect fruition of God, Who is the life of the soul, as Moses saith: 'He is thy life.' [52]

8. Jeremias also, in the Lamentations, speaks of these three things, praying unto God, and saying: 'Remember my poverty . . . the wormwood and the gall.' [53] Poverty relates to the understanding, to which appertain the riches of the knowledge of the Son of God, 'in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid.' [54] The wormwood, which is a most bitter herb, relates to the will, to which appertains the sweetness of the fruition of God, deprived of which it abides in bitterness. We learn in the Apocalypse that bitterness appertains spiritually to the will, for the angel said to St. John: 'Take the book and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter.' [55] Here the belly signifies the will. The gall relates not only to the memory, but also to all the powers and faculties of the soul, for it signifies the death thereof, as we learn from Moses speaking of the damned: 'Their wine is the gall of dragons, and the venom of asps, which is incurable.' [56] This signifies the loss of God, which is the death of the soul.

9. These three things which distress the soul are grounded on the three theological virtues--faith, charity, and hope, which relate, in the order here assigned them, to the three faculties of the soul--understanding, will, and memory. Observe here that the soul does no more than represent its miseries and pain to the Beloved: for he who loves wisely does not care to ask for that which he wants and desires, being satisfied with hinting at his necessities, so that the beloved one may do what shall to him seem good. Thus the Blessed Virgin at the marriage feast of Cana asked not directly for wine, but only said to her Beloved Son, 'They have no wine.' [57] The sisters of Lazarus sent to Him, not to ask Him to heal their brother, but only to say that he whom He loved was sick: 'Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.' [58]

10. There are three reasons for this. Our Lord knows what is expedient for us better than we do ourselves. Secondly, the Beloved is more compassionate towards us when He sees our necessities and our resignation. Thirdly, we are more secured against self-love and selfseeking when we represent our necessity, than when we ask for that which we think we need. It is in this way that the soul represents its three necessities; as if it said: 'Tell my Beloved, that as I languish, and as He only is my salvation, to save me; that as I am suffering, and as He only is my joy, to give me joy; that as I am dying, and as He only is my life, to give me life.'


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.

THE soul, observing that its sighs and prayers suffice not to find the Beloved, and that it has not been helped by the messengers it invoked in the first and second stanzas, will not, because its searching is real and its love great, leave undone anything itself can do. The soul that really loves God is not dilatory in its efforts to find the Son of God, its Beloved; and, even when it has done all it could it is still not satisfied, thinking it has done nothing. Accordingly, the soul is now, in this third stanza, actively seeking the Beloved, and saying how He is to be found; namely, in the practice of all virtue and in the spiritual exercises of the active and contemplative life; for this end it rejects all delights and all comforts; and all the power and wiles of its three enemies, the world, the devil, and the flesh, are unable to delay it or hinder it on the road.

'In search of my Love.'

2. Here the soul makes it known that to find God it is not enough to pray with the heart and the tongue, or to have recourse to the help of others; we must also work ourselves, according to our power. God values one effort of our own more than many of others on our behalf; the soul, therefore, remembering the saying of the Beloved, 'Seek and you shall find,' [59] is resolved on going forth, as I said just now, to seek Him actively, and not rest till it finds Him, as many do who will not that God should cost them anything but words, and even those carelessly uttered, and for His sake will do nothing that will cost them anything. Some, too, will not leave for His sake a place which is to their taste and liking, expecting to receive all the sweetness of God in their mouth and in their heart without moving a step, without mortifying themselves by the abandonment of a single pleasure or useless comfort.

3. But until they go forth out of themselves to seek Him, however loudly they may cry they will not find Him; for the bride in the Canticle sought Him in this way, but she found Him not until she went out to seek Him: 'In my little bed in the nights I have sought Him Whom my soul loveth: I have sought Him and have not found Him. I will rise and will go about the city: by the streets and highways I will seek Him Whom my soul loveth.' [60] She afterwards adds that when she had endured Certain trials she 'found Him.' [61]

4. He, therefore, who seeks God, consulting his own ease and comfort, seeks Him by night, and therefore finds Him not. But he who seeks Him in the practice of virtue and of good works, casting aside the comforts of his own bed, seeks Him by day; such an one shall find Him, for that which is not seen by night is visible by day. The Bridegroom Himself teaches us this, Saying, 'Wisdom is clear and never fadeth away, and is easily seen of them that love her, and is found of them that seek her. She preventeth them that covet her, that she first may show herself unto them. He that awaketh early to seek her shall not labour; for he shall find her sitting at his doors.' [62] The soul that will go out of the house of its own will, and abandon the bed of its own satisfaction, will find the divine Wisdom, the Son of God, the Bridegroom waiting at the door without, and so the soul says:

'I will go over mountains and strands.'

5. Mountains, which are lofty, signify virtues, partly on account of their height and partly on account of the toil and labour of ascending them; the soul says it will ascend to them in the practice of the contemplative life. Strands, which are low, signify mortifications, penances, and the spiritual exercises, and the soul will add to the active life that of contemplation; for both are necessary in seeking after God and in acquiring Virtue. The soul says, in effect, 'In searching after my Beloved I will practise great virtue, and abase myself by lowly mortifications and acts of humility, for the way to seek God is to do good works in Him, and to mortify the evil in ourselves, as it is said in the words that follow:

'I will gather no flowers.'

6. He that will seek after God must have his heart detached, resolute, and free from all evils, and from all goods which are not simply God; that is the meaning of these words. The words that follow describe the liberty and courage which the soul must possess in searching after God. Here it declares that it will gather no flowers by the way--the flowers are all the delights, satisfactions, and pleasures which this life offers, and which, if the soul sought or accepted, would hinder it on the road.

7. These flowers are of three kinds--temporal, sensual, and spiritual. All of them occupy the heart, and stand in the way of the spiritual detachment required in the way of Christ, if we regard them or rest in them. The soul, therefore, says, that it will not stop to gather any of them, that it may seek after God. It seems to say, I will not set my heart upon riches or the goods of this world; I will not indulge in the satisfactions and ease of the flesh, neither will I consult the taste and comforts of my spirit, in order that nothing may detain me in my search after my Love on the toilsome mountains of virtue. This means that it accepts the counsel of the prophet David to those who travel on this road: 'If riches abound, set not your heart upon them,' [63] This is applicable to sensual satisfactions, as well as to temporal goods and spiritual consolations.

8. From this we learn that not only temporal goods and bodily pleasures hinder us on the road to God, but spiritual delight and consolations also, if we attach ourselves to them or seek them; for these things are hindrances on the way of the cross of Christ, the Bridegroom. He, therefore, that will go onwards must not only not stop to gather flowers, but must also have the courage and resolution to say as follows:

'I will fear no wild beasts and I will go over the mighty and the frontiers.'

Here we have the three enemies of the soul which make war against it, and make its way full of difficulties. The wild beasts are the world; the mighty, the devil; and the frontiers are the flesh.

9. The world is the wild beasts, because in the beginning of the heavenly journey the imagination pictures the world to the soul as wild beasts, threatening and fierce, principally in three ways. The first is, we must forfeit the world's favour, lose friends, credit, reputation, and property; the second is not less cruel: we must suffer the perpetual deprivation of all the comforts and pleasures of the world; and the third is still worse: evil tongues will rise against us, mock us, and speak of us with contempt. This strikes some persons so vividly that it becomes most difficult for them, I do not say to persevere, but even to enter on this road at all.

10. But there are generous souls who have to encounter wild beasts of a more interior and spiritual nature--trials, temptations, tribulations, and afflictions of divers kinds, through which they must pass. This is what God sends to those whom He is raising upwards to high perfection, proving them and trying them as gold in the fire; as David saith: 'Many are the tribulations of the just; and out of all these our Lord will deliver them.' [64] But the truly enamoured soul, preferring the Beloved above all things, and relying on His love and favour, finds no difficulty in saying:

'I will fear no wild beats' 'and pass over the mighty and the frontiers.'

11. Evil spirits, the second enemy of the soul, are called the mighty, because they strive with all their might to seize on the passes of the spiritual road; and because the temptations they suggest are harder to overcome, and the craft they employ more difficult to detect, than all the seductions of the world and the flesh; and because, also, they strengthen their own position by the help of the world and the flesh in order to fight vigorously against the soul. Hence the Psalmist calls them mighty, saying: 'The mighty have sought after my soul.' [65] The prophet Job also speaks of their might: 'There is no power upon the earth that may be compared with him who was made to fear no man.' [66]

12. There is no human power that can be compared with the power of the devil, and therefore the divine power alone can overcome him, and the divine light alone can penetrate his devices. No soul therefore can overcome his might without prayer, or detect his illusions without humility and mortification. Hence the exhortation of St. Paul to the faithful: 'Put you on the armour of God, that you may stand against the deceits of the devil: for our wrestling is not against flesh and blood.' [67] Blood here is the world, and the armour of God is prayer and the cross of Christ, wherein consist the humility and mortification of which I have spoken.

13. The soul says also that it will cross the frontiers: these are the natural resistance and rebellion of the flesh against the spirit, for, as St. Paul saith, the 'flesh lusteth against the spirit,' [68] and sets itself as a frontier against the soul on its spiritual road. This frontier the soul must cross, surmounting difficulties, and trampling underfoot all sensual appetites and all natural affections with great courage and resolution of spirit: for while they remain in the soul, the spirit will be by them hindered from advancing to the true life and spiritual delight. This is set clearly before us by St. Paul, saying: 'If by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.' [69] This, then, is the process which the soul in this stanza says it becomes it to observe on the way to seek the Beloved: which briefly is a firm resolution not to stoop to gather flowers by the way; courage not to fear the wild beasts, and strength to pass by the mighty and the frontiers; intent solely on going over the mountains and the strands of the virtues, in the way just explained.


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

THE disposition requisite for entering on the spiritual journey, abstinence from joys and pleasure, being now described; and the courage also with which to overcome temptations and trials, wherein consists the practice of self-knowledge, which is the first step of the soul to the knowledge of God. Now, in this stanza the soul begins to advance through consideration and knowledge of creatures to the knowledge of the Beloved their Creator. For the consideration of the creature, after the practice of self-knowledge, is the first in order on the spiritual road to the knowledge of God, Whose grandeur and magnificence they declare, as the Apostle saith: 'For His invisible things from the creation of the world are seen, being understood by these things that are made.' [70] It is as if he said, 'The invisible things of God are made known to the soul by created things, visible and invisible.'

2. The soul, then, in this stanza addresses itself to creatures inquiring after the Beloved. And we observe, as St. Augustine [71] says, that the inquiry made of creatures is a meditation on the Creator, for which they furnish the matter. Thus, in this stanza the soul meditates on the elements and the rest of the lower creation; on the heavens, and on the rest of created and material things which God has made therein; also on the heavenly Spirits, saying:

'O groves and thickets.'

3. The groves are the elements, earth, water, air, and fire. As the most pleasant groves are studded with plants and shrubs, so the elements are thick with creatures, and here are called thickets because of the number and variety of creatures in each. The earth contains innumerable varieties of animals and plants, the water of fish, the air of birds, and fire concurs with all in animating and sustaining them. Each kind of animal lives in its proper element, placed and planted there, as in its own grove and soil where it is born and nourished; and, in truth, God so ordered it when He made them; He commanded the earth to bring forth herbs and animals; the waters and the sea, fish; and the air He gave as an habitation to birds. The soul, therefore, considering that this is the effect of His commandment, cries out,

'Planted by the hand of the Beloved.'

4. That which the soul considers now is this: the hand of God the Beloved only could have created and nurtured all these varieties and wonderful things. The soul says deliberately, 'by the hand of the Beloved,' because God doeth many things by the hands of others, as of angels and men; but the work of creation has never been, and never is, the work of any other hand than His own. Thus the soul, considering the creation, is profoundly stirred up to love God the Beloved for it beholds all things to be the work of His hands, and goes on to say:

'O verdant meads.'

5. These are the heavens; for the things which He hath created in the heavens are of incorruptible freshness, which neither perish nor wither with time, where the just are refreshed as in the green pastures. The present consideration includes all the varieties of the stars in their beauty, and the other works in the heavens.

6. The Church also applies the term 'verdure' to heavenly things; for while praying to God for the departing soul, it addresses it as follows: 'May Christ, the Son of the living God, give thee a place in the everpleasant verdure of His paradise.' [72] The soul also says that this verdant mead is

'Enamelled with flowers.'

7. The flowers are the angels and the holy souls who adorn and beautify that place, as costly and fine enamel on a vase of pure gold.

'Tell me, has He passed by you?'

8. This inquiry is the consideration of the creature just spoken of, and is in effect: Tell me, what perfections has He created in you?



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

THIS is the answer of the creatures to the soul which, according to St. Augustine, in the same place, is the testimony which they furnish to the majesty and perfections of God, for which it asked in its meditation on created things. The meaning of this stanza is, in substance, as follows: God created all things with great ease and rapidity, and left in them some tokens of Himself, not only by creating them out of nothing, but also by endowing them with innumerable graces and qualities, making them beautiful in admirable order and unceasing mutual dependence. All this He wrought in wisdom, by which He created them, which is the Word, His only begotten Son. Then the soul says;

'A thousand graces diffusing.'

2. These graces are the innumerable multitude of His creatures. The term 'thousand,' which the soul makes use of, denotes not their number, but the impossibility of numbering them. They are called grace because of the qualities with which He has endowed them. He is said to diffuse them because He fills the whole world with them.

'He passed through the groves in haste.'

3. To pass through the groves is to create the elements; here called groves, through which He is said to pass, diffusing a thousand graces, because He adorned them with creatures which are all beautiful. Moreover, He diffused among them a thousand graces, giving the power of generation and self-conservation. He is said to pass through, because the creatures are, as it were, traces of the passage of God, revealing His majesty, power, and wisdom, and His other divine attributes. He is said to pass in haste, because the creatures are the least of the works of God: He made them, as it were, in passing. His greatest works, wherein He is most visible and at rest, are the incarnation of the Word and the mysteries of the Christian faith, in comparison with which all His other works were works wrought in passing and in haste.

'And thereby regarding them As He passed, Clothed them with His beauty.'

4. The son of God is, in the words of St. Paul, the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance.' [73] God saw all things only in the face of His Son. This was to give them their natural being, bestowing upon them many graces and natural gifts, making them perfect, as it is written in the book of Genesis: 'God saw all the things that He had made: and they were very good.' [74] To see all things very good was to make them very good in the Word, His Son. He not only gave them their being and their natural graces when He beheld them, but He also clothed them with beauty in the face of His Son, communicating to them a supernatural being when He made man, and exalted him to the beauty of God, and, by consequence, all creatures in him, because He united Himself to the nature of them all in man. For this cause the Son of God Himself said, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all things to Myself.' [75] And thus in this exaltation of the incarnation of His Son, and the glory of His resurrection according to the flesh, the Father not only made all things beautiful in part, but also, we may well say, clothed them wholly with beauty and dignity.


BUT beyond all this--speaking now of contemplation as it affects the soul and makes an impression on it--in the vivid contemplation and knowledge of created things the soul beholds such a multiplicity of graces, powers, and beauty wherewith God has endowed them, that they seem to it to be clothed with admirable beauty and supernatural virtue derived from the infinite supernatural beauty of the face of God, whose beholding of them clothed the heavens and the earth with beauty and joy; as it is written: 'Thou openest Thy hand and fillest with blessing every living creature.' [76] Hence the soul wounded with love of that beauty of the Beloved which it traces in created things, and anxious to behold that beauty which is the source of this visible beauty, sings as in the following stanza:



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

AS created things furnish to the soul traces of the Beloved, and exhibit the impress of His beauty and magnificence, the love of the soul increases, and consequently the pain of His absence: for the greater the soul's knowledge of God the greater its desire to see Him, and its pain when it cannot; and as it sees there is no remedy for this pain except in the presence and vision of the Beloved, distrustful of every other remedy, it prays in this stanza for the fruition of His presence, saying: 'Entertain me no more with any knowledge or communications or impressions of Thy grandeur, for these do but increase my longing and the pain of Thy absence; Thy presence alone can satisfy my will and desire.' The will cannot be satisfied with anything less than the vision of God, and therefore the soul prays that He may be pleased to give Himself to it in truth, in perfect love.

'O! who can heal me?'

2. That is, there is nothing in all the delights of the world, nothing in the satisfaction of the senses, nothing in the sweet taste of the spirit that can heal or content me, and therefore it adds:

'Give me at once Thyself.'

3. No soul that really loves can be satisfied or content short of the fruition of God. For everything else, as I have just said, not only does not satisfy the soul, but rather increases the hunger and thirst of seeing Him as He us. Thus every glimpse of the Beloved, every knowledge and impression or communication from Him-- these are the messengers suggestive of Him--increase and quicken the soul's desire after Him, as crumbs of food in hunger stimulate the appetite. The soul, therefore, mourning over the misery of being entertained by matters of so little moment, cries out:

'Give me perfectly Thyself.'

4. Now all our knowledge of God in this life, how great soever it may be, is not a perfectly true knowledge of Him, because it is partial and incomplete; but to know Him essentially is true knowledge, and that is it which the soul prays for here, not satisfied with any other kind. Hence it says:

'Send me no more a messenger.'

5. That is, grant that I may no longer know Thee in this imperfect way by the messengers of knowledge and impressions, which are so distant from that which my soul desires; for these messengers, as Thou well knowest, O my Bridegroom, do but increase the pain of Thy absence. They renew the wound which Thou hast inflicted by the knowledge of Thee which they convey, and they seem to delay Thy coming. Henceforth do Thou send me no more of these inadequate communications, for if I have been hitherto satisfied with them, it was owing to the slightness of my knowledge and of my love: now that my love has become great, I cannot satisfy myself with them; do Thou, therefore, give me at once Thyself.

6. This, more clearly expressed, is as follows: 'O Lord my Bridegroom, Who didst give me Thyself partially before, give me Thyself wholly now. Thou who didst show glimpses of Thyself before, show Thyself clearly now. Thou who didst communicate Thyself hitherto by the instrumentality of messengers--it was as if Thou didst mock me--give Thyself by Thyself now. Sometimes when Thou didst visit me Thou didst give me the pearl of Thy possession, and, when I began to examine it, lo, it was gone, for Thou hadst hidden it Thyself: it was like a mockery. Give me then Thyself in truth, Thy whole self, that I may have Thee wholly to myself wholly, and send me no messengers again.'

'Who cannot tell me what I wish.'

7. 'I wish for Thee wholly, and Thy messengers neither know Thee wholly, nor can they speak of Thee wholly, for there is nothing in earth or heaven that can furnish that knowledge to the soul which it longs for. They cannot tell me, therefore, what I wish. Instead, then, of these messengers, be Thou the messenger and the message.'


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.

THE soul describes itself in the foregoing stanza as wounded, or sick with love of the Bridegroom, because of the knowledge of Him which the irrational creation supplies, and in the present, as wounded with love because of the other and higher knowledge which it derives from the rational creation, nobler than the former; that is, angels and men. This is not all, for the soul says also that it is dying of love, because of that marvellous immensity not wholly but partially revealed to it through the rational creation. This it calls 'I know not what,' because it cannot be described, and because it is such that the soul dies of it.

2. It seems, from this, that there are three kinds of pain in the soul's love of the Beloved, corresponding to the three kinds of knowledge that can be had of Him. The first is called a wound; not deep, but slight, like a wound which heals quickly, because it comes from its knowledge of the creatures, which are the lowest works of God. This wounding of the soul, called also sickness, is thus spoken of by the bride in the Canticle: 'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved, that you tell Him that I languish with love.' [77] The daughters of Jerusalem are the creatures.

3. The second is called a sore which enters deeper than a wound into the soul, and is, therefore, of longer continuance, because it is as a wound festering, on account of which the soul feels that it is really dying of love. This sore is the effect of the knowledge of the works of God, the incarnation of the Word, and the mysteries of the faith. These being the greatest works of God, and involving a greater love than those of creation, produce a greater effect of love in the soul. If the first kind of pain be as a wound, this must be like a festering, continuous sore. Of this speaks the Bridegroom, addressing Himself to the bride, saying: 'Thou hast wounded My heart, My sister, My bride; thou hast wounded My heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck.' [78] The eye signifies faith in the incarnation of the Bridegroom, and the one hair is the love of the same.

4. The third kind of pain is like dying; it is as if the whole soul were festering because of its wound. It is dying a living death until love, having slain it, shall make it live the life of love, transforming it in love. This dying of love is affected by a single touch of the knowledge of the Divinity; it is the 'I know not what,' of which the creatures, as in the stanza is said, are speaking indistinctly. This touch is not continuous nor great,-- for then soul and body would part--but soon over, and thus the soul is dying of love, and dying the more when it sees that it cannot die of love. [79] This is called impatient love, which is spoken of in the book of Genesis, where the Scripture saith that Rachel's love of children was so great that she said to Jacob her husband, 'Give me children, otherwise I shall die.' [80] And the prophet Job said, 'Who will grant that . . . He that hath begun the same would cut me off.' [81]

5. These two-fold pains of love--that is, the wound and the dying-- are in the stanza said to be merely the rational creation. The wound, when it speaks of the unnumbered graces of the Beloved in the mysteries and wisdom of God taught by the faith. The dying, when it is said that the rational creation speaks indistinctly. This is a sense and knowledge of the Divinity sometimes revealed when the soul hears God spoken of. Therefore it says:

'All they who serve.'

6. That is, the rational creation, angels and men; for these alone are they who serve God, understanding by that word intelligent service; that is to say, all they who serve God. Some serve Him by contemplation and fruition in heaven--these are the angels; others by loving and longing for Him on earth--these are men. And because the soul learns to know God more distinctly through the rational creation, whether by considering its superiority over the rest of creation, or by what it teaches us of God--the angels interiorly by secret inspirations, and men exteriorly by the truths of Scripture--it says:

'Telling me of Thy unnumbered graces.'

7. That is, they speak of the wonders of Thy grace and mercy in the Incarnation, and in the truths of the faith which they show forth and are ever telling more distinctly; for the more they say, the more do they reveal Thy graces.

'And all wound me more and more.'

8. The more the angels inspire me, the more men teach me, the more do I love Thee; and thus all wound me more and more with love.

'And something leaves me dying, I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking.'

9. It is as if it said: 'But beside the wound which the creatures inflict when they tell me of Thy unnumbered graces, there is yet something which remains to be told, one thing unknown to be uttered, a most clear trace of the footsteps of God revealed to the soul, which it should follow, a most profound knowledge of God, which is ineffable, and therefore spoken of as 'I know not what.' If that which I comprehend inflicts the wound and festering sore of love, that which I cannot comprehend but yet feel profoundly, kills me.

10. This happens occasionally to souls advanced, whom God favours in what they hear, or see, or understand--and sometimes without these or other means--with a certain profound knowledge, in which they feel or apprehend the greatness and majesty of God. In this state they think so highly of God as to see clearly that they know Him not, and in their perception of His greatness they recognise that not to comprehend Him is the highest comprehension. And thus, one of the greatest favours of God, bestowed transiently on the soul in this life, is to enable it to see so distinctly, and to feel so profoundly, that it clearly understands it cannot comprehend Him at all. These souls are herein, in some degree, like the saints in heaven, where they who know Him most perfectly perceive most clearly that He is infinitely incomprehensible, for those who have the less clear vision, do not perceive so distinctly as the others, how greatly He transends their vision. This is clear to none who have not had experience of it. But the experienced soul, comprehending that there is something further of which it is profoundly sensible, calls it, 'I know not what.' As that cannot be understood, so neither can it be described, though it be felt, as I have said. Hence the soul says that the creatures speak indistinctly, because they cannot distinctly utter that which they would say: it is the speech of infants, who cannot explain distinctly or speak intelligibly that which they would convey to others.

11. The other creatures, also, are in some measure a revelation to the soul in this way, but not of an order so high, whenever it is the good pleasure of God to manifest to it their spiritual sense and significance; they are seemingly on the point of making us understand the perfections of God, and cannot compass it; it is as if one were about to explain a matter and the explanation is not given; and thus they stammer 'I know not what.' The soul continues to complain, and addresses its own life, saying, in the stanza that follows:


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

THE soul, perceiving itself to be dying of love, as it has just said, and yet not dying so as to have the free enjoyment of its love, complains of the continuance of its bodily life, by which the spiritual life is delayed. Here the soul addresses itself to the life it is living upon earth, magnifying the sorrows of it. The meaning of the stanza therefore is as follows: 'O life of my soul, how canst thou persevere in this life of the flesh, seeing that it is thy death and the privation of the true spiritual life in God, in Whom thou livest in substance, love, and desire, more truly than in the body? And if this were not reason enough to depart, and free thyself from the body of this death, so as to live and enjoy the life of God, how canst thou still remain in a body so frail? Besides, these wounds of love made by the Beloved in the revelation of His majesty are by themselves alone sufficient to put an end to thy life, for they are very deep; and thus all thy feelings towards Him, and all thou knowest of Him, are so many touches and wounds of love that kill,

'But how thou perseverest, O life! Not living where thou livest.'

2. We must keep in mind, for the better understanding of this, that the soul lives there where it loves, rather than in the body which it animates. The soul does not live by the body, but, on the contrary, gives it life, and lives by love in that which it loves. For beside this life of love which it lives in God Who loves it, the soul has its radical and natural life in God, like all created things, according to the saying of St. Paul: 'In Him we live, and move, and are;' [82] that is, our life, motion, and being is in God. St. John also says that all that was made was life in God: 'That which was made, in Him was life.' [83]

3. When the soul sees that its natural life is in God through the being He has given it, and its spiritual life also because of the love it bears Him, it breaks forth into lamentations, complaining that so frail a life in a mortal body should have the power to hinder it from the fruition of the true, real, and delicious life, which it lives in God by nature and by love. Earnestly, therefore, does the soul insist upon this: it tells us that it suffers between two contradictions--its natural life in the body, and its spiritual life in God; contrary the one to the other, because of their mutual repugnance. The soul living this double life is of necessity in great pain; for the painful life hinders the delicious, so that the natural life is as death, seeing that it deprives the soul of its spiritual life, wherein is its whole being and life by nature, and all its operations and feelings by love. The soul, therefore, to depict more vividly the hardships of this fragile life, says:

'The arrows bring death which thou receivest.'

4. That is to say: 'Besides, how canst thou continue in the body, seeing that the touches of love--these are the arrows--with which the Beloved pierces thy heart, are alone sufficient to deprive thee of life?' These touches of love make the soul and heart so fruitful of the knowledge and love of God, that they may well be called conceptions of God, as in the words that follow:

'From thy conceptions of the Beloved.'

5. That is, of the majesty, beauty, wisdom, grace, and power, which thou knowest to be His.


AS the hart wounded with a poisoned arrow cannot be easy and at rest, but seeks relief on all sides, plunging into the waters here and again there, whilst the poison spreads notwithstanding all attempts at relief, till it reaches the heart, and occasions death; so the soul, pierced by the arrow of love, never ceases from seeking to alleviate its pains. Not only does it not succeed, but its pains increase, let it think, and say, and do what it may; and knowing this, and that there is no other remedy but the resignation of itself into the hands of Him Who wounded it, that He may relieve it, and effectually slay it through the violence of its love; it turns towards the Bridegroom, Who is the cause of all, and says:


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?

HERE the soul returns to the Beloved, still complaining of its pain; for that impatient love which the soul now exhibits admits of no rest or cessation from pain; so it sets forth its griefs in all manner of ways until it finds relief. The soul seeing itself wounded and lonely, and as no one can heal it but the Beloved Who has wounded it, asks why He, having wounded its heart with that love which the knowledge of Him brings, does not heal it in the vision of His presence; and why He thus abandons the heart which He has stolen through the love Which inflames it, after having deprived the soul of all power over it. The soul has now no power over its heart--for he who loves has none--because it is surrendered to the Beloved, and yet He has not taken it to Himself in the pure and perfect transformation of love in glory.

'Why, after wounding this heart, hast Thou not healed it?'

2. The enamoured soul is complaining not because it is wounded, for the deeper the wound the greater the joy, but because, being wounded, it is not healed by being wounded unto death. The wounds of love are so deliciously sweet, that if they do not kill, they cannot satisfy the soul. They are so sweet that it desires to die of them, and hence it is that it says, 'Why, after wounding this heart, hast Thou not healed it?' That is, 'Why hast Thou struck it so sharply as to wound it so deeply, and yet not healed it by killing it utterly with love? As Thou art the cause of its pain in the affliction of love, be Thou also the cause of its health by a death from love; so the heart, wounded by the pain of Thy absence, shall be healed in the delight and glory of Thy Sweet presence.' Therefore it goes on:

'And why, after stealing it, hast Thou thus abandoned it?'

3. Stealing is nothing else but the act of a robber in dispossessing the owner of his goods, and possessing them himself. Here the soul complains to the Beloved that He has robbed it of its heart lovingly, and taken it out of its power and possession, and then abandoned it, without taking it into His own power and possession as the thief does with the goods he steals, carrying them away with him. He who is in love is said to have lost his heart, or to have it stolen by the object of his love; because it is no longer in his own possession, but in the power of the object of his love, and so his heart is not his own, but the property of the person he loves.

4. This consideration will enable the soul to determine whether it loves God simply or not. If it loves Him it will have no heart for itself, nor for its own pleasure or profit, but for the honour, glory, and pleasure of God; because the more the heart is occupied with self, the less is it occupied with God. Whether God has really stolen the heart, the soul may ascertain by either of these two signs: Is it anxiously seeking after God? and has it no pleasure in anything but in Him, as the soul here says? The reason of this is that the heart cannot rest in peace without the possession of something; and when its affections are once placed, it has neither the possession of itself nor of anything else; neither does it perfectly possess what it loves. In this state its weariness is in proportion to its loss, until it shall enter into possession and be satisfied; for until then the soul is as an empty vessel waiting to be filled, as a hungry man eager for food, as a sick man sighing for health, and as a man suspended in the air.

'And not carried away the stolen prey?'

5. 'Why dost Thou not carry away the heart which Thy love has stolen, to fill it, to heal it, and to satiate it giving it perfect rest in Thyself?'

6. The loving soul, for the sake of greater conformity with the Beloved, cannot cease to desire the recompense and reward of its love for the sake of which it serves the Beloved, otherwise it could not be true love, for the recompense of love is nothing else, and the soul seeks nothing else, but greater love, until it reaches the perfection of love; for the sole reward of love is love, as we learn from the prophet Job, who, speaking of his own distress, which is that of the soul now referred to, says: 'As a servant longeth for the shade, as the hireling looketh for the end of his work; so I also have had empty months, and have numbered to myself wearisome nights. If I sleep, I say, When shall I arise? and again, I shall look for the evening, and shall be filled with sorrows even till darkness.' [84]

7. Thus, then, the soul on fire with the love of God longs for the perfection and consummation of its love, that it may be completely refreshed. As the servant wearied by the heat of the day longs for the cooling shade, and as the hireling looks for the end of his work, so the soul for the end of its own. Observe, Job does not say that the hireling looks for the end of his labour, but only for the end of his work. He teaches us that the soul which loves looks not for the end of its labour, but for the end of its work; because its work is to love, and it is the end of this work, which is love, that it hopes for, namely, the perfect love of God. Until it attains to this, the words of Job will be always true of it-- its months will be empty, and its nights wearisome and tedious. It is clear, then, that the soul which loves God seeks and looks for no other reward of its services than to love God perfectly.


THE soul, having reached this degree of love, resembles a sick man exceedingly wearied, whose appetite is gone, and to whom his food is loathsome, and all things annoyance and trouble. Amidst all things that present themselves to his thoughts, or feelings, or sight, his only wish and desire is health; and everything that does not contribute thereto is weariness and oppressive. The soul, therefore, in pain because of its love of God, has three peculiarities. Under all circumstances, and in all affairs, the thought of its health--that is, the Beloved--is ever present to it; and though it is obliged to attend to them because it cannot help it, its heart is ever with Him. The second peculiarity, namely, a loss of pleasure in everything, arises from the first. The third also, a consequence of the second, is that all things become wearisome, and all affairs full of vexation and annoyance.

2. The reason is that the palate of the will having touched and tasted of the food of the love of God, the will instantly, under all circumstances, regardless of every other consideration, seeks the fruition of the Beloved. It is with the soul now as it was with Mary Magdalene, when in her burning love she sought Him in the garden. She, thinking Him to be the gardener, spoke to Him without further reflection, saying: 'If thou hast taken Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.' [85] The soul is under the influence of a like anxiety to find Him in all things, and not finding Him immediately, as it desires--but rather the very reverse--not only has no pleasure in them, but is even tormented by them, and sometimes exceedingly so: for such souls suffer greatly in their intercourse with men and in the transactions of the world, because these things hinder rather than help them in their search.

3. The bride in the Canticle shows us that she had these three peculiarities when seeking the Bridegroom. 'I sought Him and found Him not; the keepers that go about the city found me, they struck me and wounded me: the keepers of the walls took away my cloak.' [86] The keepers that go about the city are the affairs of this world, which, when they 'find' a soul seeking after God, inflict upon it much pain, and grief, and loathing; for the soul not only does not find in them what it seeks, but rather a hindrance. They who keep the wall of contemplation, that the soul may not enter-- that is, evil spirits and worldly affairs--take away the cloak of peace and the quiet of loving contemplation. All this inflicts infinite vexation on the soul enamoured of God; and while it remains on earth without the vision of God, there is no relief, great or small, from these afflictions, and the soul therefore continues to complain to the Beloved, saying:


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.

HERE the soul continues to beseech the Beloved to put an end to its anxieties and distress--none other than He can do so--and that in such a way that its eyes may behold Him; for He alone is the light by which they see, and there is none other but He on whom it will look.

'Quench Thou my troubles.'

2. The desire of love has this property, that everything said or done which does not become that which the will loves, wearies and annoys it, and makes it peevish when it sees itself disappointed in its desires. This and its weary longing after the vision of God is here called 'troubles.' These troubles nothing can remove except the possession of the Beloved; hence the soul prays Him to quench them with His presence, to cool their feverishness, as the cooling water him who is wearied by the heat. The soul makes use of the expression 'quench,' to denote its sufferings from the fire of love.

'For no one else can soothe them.'

3. The soul, in order to move and persuade the Beloved to grant its petition, says, 'As none other but Thou can satisfy my needs, do Thou quench my troubles.' Remember here that God is then close at hand, to comfort the soul and to satisfy its wants, when it has and seeks no satisfaction or comfort out of Him. The soul that finds no pleasure out of God cannot be long unvisited by the Beloved.

'And let mine eyes behold Thee.'

4. Let me see Thee face to face with the eyes of the soul,

'For thou art their light.'

5. God is the supernatural light of the soul, without which it abides in darkness. And now, in the excess of its affection, it calls Him the light of its eyes, as an earthly lover, to express his affection, calls the object of his love the light of his eyes. The soul says in effect in the foregoing terms, 'Since my eyes have no other light, either of nature or of love, but Thee, let them behold Thee, Who in every way art their light.' David was regretting this light when he said in his trouble, 'The light of mine eyes, and the same is not with me;' [87] and Tobias, when he said, 'What manner of joy shall be to me who sit in darkness, and see not the light of heaven?' [88] He was longing for the clear vision of God; for the light of heaven is the Son of God; as St. John saith in the Apocalypse: 'And the city needeth not sun, nor moon to shine in it; for the glory of God hath illuminated it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof.' [89]

'And I will keep them for Thee alone.'

6. The soul seeks to constrain the Bridegroom to let it see the light of its eyes, not only because it would be in darkness without it, but also because it will not look upon anything but on Him. For as that soul is justly deprived of this divine light if it fixes the eyes of the will on any other light, proceeding from anything that is not God, for then its vision is confined to that object; so also the soul, by a certain fitness, deserves the divine light, if it shuts its eyes against all objects whatever, to open them only for the vision of God.


BUT the loving Bridegroom of souls cannot bear to see them suffer long in the isolation of which I am speaking, for, as He saith by the mouth of Zacharias, 'He that shall touch you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye;' [90] especially when their sufferings, as those of this soul, proceed from their love for Him. Therefore doth He speak through Isaias, 'It shall be before they call, I will hear; as they are yet speaking, I will hear.' [91] And the wise man saith that the soul that seeketh Him as treasure shall find Him. [92] God grants a certain spiritual presence of Himself to the fervent prayers of the loving soul which seeks Him more earnestly than treasure, seeing that it has abandoned all things, and even itself, for His sake.

2. In that presence He shows certain profound glimpses of His divinity and beauty, whereby He still increases the soul's anxious desire to behold Him. For as men throw water on the coals of the forge to cause intenser heat, so our Lord in His dealings with certain souls, in the intermission of their love, makes some revelations of His majesty, to quicken their fervour, and to prepare them more and more for those graces which He will give them afterwards. Thus the soul, in that obscure presence of God, beholding and feeling the supreme good and beauty hidden there, is dying in desire of the vision, saying in the stanza that follows:




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.

THE soul, anxious to be possessed by God, Who is so great, Whose love has wounded and stolen its heart, and unable to suffer more, beseeches Him directly, in this stanza, to reveal His beauty--that is, the divine Essence--and to slay it in that vision, separating it from the body, in which it can neither see nor possess Him as it desires. And further, setting before Him the distress and sorrow of heart, in which it continues, suffering it because of its love, and unable to find any other remedy than the glorious vision of the divine essence, cries out: 'Reveal Thy presence.'

2. To understand this clearly we must remember that there are three ways in which God is present in the soul. The first is His presence in essence, not in holy souls only, but in wretched and sinful souls as well, and also in all created things; for it is by this presence that He gives life and being, and were it once withdrawn all things would return to nothing. [93] This presence never fails in the soul.

3. The second is His presence by grace, whereby He dwells in the soul, pleased and satisfied with it. This presence is not in all souls; for those who fall into mortal sin lose it, and no soul can know in a natural way whether it has it or not. The third is His presence by spiritual affection. God is wont to show His presence in many devout souls in divers ways, in refreshment, joy, and gladness; yet this, like the others, is all secret, for He does not show Himself as He is, because the condition of our mortal life does not admit of it. Thus this prayer of the soul may be understood of any one of them.

'Reveal Thy presence.'

4. Inasmuch as it is certain that God is ever present in the soul, at least in the first way, the soul does not say, 'Be Thou present'; but, 'Reveal and manifest Thy hidden presence, whether natural, spiritual, or affective, in such a way that I may behold Thee in Thy divine essence and beauty.' The soul prays Him that as He by His essential presence gives it its natural being, and perfects it by His presence of grace, so also He would glorify it by the manifestation of His glory. But as the soul is now loving God with fervent affections, the presence, for the revelation of which it prays the Beloved to manifest, is to be understood chiefly of the affective presence of the Beloved. Such is the nature of this presence that the soul felt there was an infinite being hidden there, out of which God communicated to it certain obscure visions of His own divine beauty. Such was the effect of these visions that the soul longed and fainted away with the desire of that which is hidden in that presence.

5. This is in harmony with the experience of David, when he said: 'My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of our Lord.' [94] The soul now faints with desire of being absorbed in the Sovereign Good which it feels to be present and hidden; for though it be hidden, the soul is most profoundly conscious of the good and delight which are there. The soul is therefore attracted to this good with more violence than matter is to its centre, and is unable to contain itself, by reason of the force of this attraction, from saying:

'Reveal Thy presence.'

6. Moses, on Mount Sinai in the presence of God, saw such glimpses of the majesty and beauty of His hidden Divinity, that, unable to endure it, he prayed twice for the vision of His glory saying: 'Whereas Thou hast said: I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight. If, therefore, I have found grace in Thy sight, shew me Thy face, that I may know Thee and may find grace before Thine eyes;' [95] that is, the grace which he longed for--to attain to the perfect love of the glory of God. The answer of our Lord was: 'Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.' [96] It is as if God had said: 'Moses, thy prayer is difficult to grant; the beauty of My face, and the joy in seeing Me is so great, as to be more than thy soul can bear in a mortal body that is so weak.' The soul accordingly, conscious of this truth, either because of the answer made to Moses or also because of that which I spoke of before, [97] namely, the feeling that there is something still in the presence of God here which it could not see in its beauty in the life it is now living, because, as I said before, [98] it faints when it sees but a glimpse of it. Hence it comes that it anticipates the answer that may be given to it, as it was to Moses, and says:

'Let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.'

7. That is, 'Since the vision of Thee and Thy beauty is so full of delight that I cannot endure, but must die in the act of beholding them, let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.'

8. Two visions are said to be fatal to man, because he cannot bear them and live. One, that of the basilisk, at the sight of which men are said to die at once. The other is the vision of God; but there is a great difference between them. The former kills by poison, the other with infinite health and bliss. It is, therefore, nothing strange for the soul to desire to die by beholding the beauty of God in order to enjoy Him for ever. If the soul had but one single glimpse of the majesty and beauty of God, not only would it desire to die once in order to see Him for ever, as it desires now, but would most joyfully undergo a thousand most bitter deaths to see Him even for a moment, and having seen Him would suffer as many deaths again to see Him for another moment.

9. It is necessary to observe for the better explanation of this line, that the soul is now speaking conditionally, when it prays that the vision and beauty may slay it; it assumes that the vision must be preceded by death, for if it were possible before death, the soul would not pray for death, because the desire of death is a natural imperfection. The soul, therefore, takes it for granted that this corruptible life cannot coexist with the incorruptible life of God, and says:

'Let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.'

10. St. Paul teaches this doctrine to the Corinthians when he says: 'We would not be spoiled, but overclothed, that that which is mortal may be swallowed up of life,' [99] That is, 'we would not be divested of the flesh, but invested with glory.' But reflecting that he could not live in glory and in a mortal body at the same time, he says to the Philippians: 'having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.' [100]

11. Here arises this question, Why did the people of Israel of old dread and avoid the vision of God, that they might not die, as it appears they did from the words of Manue to his wife, 'We shall die because we have seen God,' [101] when the soul desires to die of that vision? To this question two answers may be given.

12. In those days men could not see God, though dying in the state of grace, because Christ had not come, It was therefore more profitable for them to live in the flesh, increasing in merit, and enjoying their natural life, than to be in Limbus, incapable of meriting, suffering in the darkness and in the spiritual absence of God. They therefore considered it a great grace and blessing to live long upon earth.

13. The second answer is founded on considerations drawn from the love of God. They in those days, not being so confirmed in love, nor so near to God by love, were afraid of the vision: but, now, under the law of grace, when, on the death of the body, the soul may behold God, it is more profitable to live but a short time, and then to die in order to see Him. And even if the vision were withheld, the soul that really loves God will not be afraid to die at the sight of Him; for true love accepts with perfect resignation, and in the same spirit, and even with joy, whatever comes to it from the hands of the Beloved, whether prosperity or adversity--yea, and even chastisements such as He shall be pleased to send, for, as St. John saith, 'perfect charity casteth out fear.' [102]

14. Thus, then, there is no bitterness in death to the soul that loves, when it brings with it all the sweetness and delights of love; there is no sadness in the remembrance of it when it opens the door to all joy; nor can it be painful and oppressive, when it is the end of all unhappiness and sorrow, and the beginning of all good. Yea, the soul looks upon it as a friend and its bride, and exults in the recollection of it as the day of espousals; it yearns for the day and hour of death more than the kings of the earth for principalities and kingdoms.

15. It was of this kind of death that the wise man said, 'O death, thy judgment is good to the needy man.' [103] If it be good to the needy man, though it does not supply his wants, but on the contrary deprives him even of what he hath, how much more good will it be to the soul in need of love and which is crying for more, when it will not only not rob it of the love it hath already, but will be the occasion of that fulness of love which it yearns for, and is the supply of all its necessities. It is not without reason, then, that the soul ventures to say:

'Let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.'

16. The soul knows well that in the instant of that vision it will be itself absorbed and transformed into that beauty, and be made beautiful like it, enriched, and abounding in beauty as that beauty itself. This is why David said, 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,' [104] but that could not be if they did not become partakers of His glory, for there is nothing precious in the eyes of God except that which He is Himself, and therefore, the soul, when it loves, fears not death, but rather desires it. But the sinner is always afraid to die, because he suspects that death will deprive him of all good, and inflict upon him all evil; for in the words of David, 'the death of the wicked is very evil,' [105] and therefore, as the wise man saith, the very thought of it is bitter: 'O death, how bitter is thy memory to a man that hath peace in his riches!' [106] The wicked love this life greatly, and the next but little, and are therefore afraid of death; but the soul that loves God lives more in the next life than in this, because it lives rather where it loves than where it dwells, and therefore esteeming but lightly its present bodily life, cries out: 'Let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.'

'Behold, the malady of love is incurable, except in Thy presence and before Thy face.'

17. The reason why the malady of love admits of no other remedy than the presence and countenance of the Beloved is, that the malady of love differs from every other sickness, and therefore requires a different remedy. In other diseases, according to sound philosophy, contraries are cured by contraries; but love is not cured but by that which is in harmony with itself. The reason is that the health of the soul consists in the love of God; and so when that love is not perfect, its health is not perfect, and the soul is therefore sick, for sickness is nothing else but a failure of health. Thus, that soul which loves not at all is dead; but when it loves a little, how little soever that may be, it is then alive, though exceedingly weak and sick because it loves God so little. But the more its love increases, the greater will be its health, and when its love is perfect, then, too, its health also is perfect. Love is not perfect until the lovers become so on an equality as to be mutually transformed into one another; then love is wholly perfect.

18. And because the soul is now conscious of a certain adumbration of love, which is the malady of which it here speaks, yearning to be made like to Him of whom it is a shadow, that is the Bridegroom, the Word, the Son of God, Who, as St. Paul saith, is the 'splendour of His glory, and the figure of His substance;' [107] and because it is into this figure it desires to be transformed by love, cries out, 'Behold, the malady of love is incurable except in Thy presence, and in the light of Thy Countenance.' The love that is imperfect is rightly called a malady, because as a sick man is enfeebled and cannot work, so the soul that is weak in love is also enfeebled and cannot practise heroic virtue.

19. Another explanation of these words is this: he who feels this malady of love--that is, a failure of it--has an evidence in himself that he has some love, because he ascertains what is deficient in him by that which he possesses. But he who is not conscious of this malady has evidence therein that he has no love at all, or that he has already attained to perfect love.


THE soul now conscious of a vehement longing after God, like a stone rushing to its centre, and like wax which has begun to receive the impression of the seal which it cannot perfectly represent, and knowing, moreover, that it is like a picture lightly sketched, crying for the artist to finish his work, and having its faith so clear as to trace most distinctly certain divine glimpses of the majesty of God, knows not what else to do but to turn inward to that faith--as involving and veiling the face and beauty of the Beloved--from which it hath received those impressions and pledges of love, and which it thus addresses:


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

THE soul vehemently desiring to be united to the Bridegroom, and seeing that there is no help or succour in created things, turns towards the faith, as to that which gives it the most vivid vision of the Beloved, and adopts it as the means to that end. And, indeed, there is no other way of attaining to true union, to the spiritual betrothal of God, according to the words of Osee: 'I will betrothe thee to Me in faith.' [108] In this fervent desire it cries out in the words of this stanza, which are in effect this: 'O faith of Christ, my Bridegroom! Oh that thou wouldest manifest clearly those truths concerning the Beloved, secretly and obscurely infused--for faith is, as theologians say, an obscure habit--so that thy informal and obscure communications may be in a moment clear; Oh that thou wouldest withdraw thyself formally and completely from these truths--for faith is a veil over the truths of God--and reveal them perfectly in glory.' Accordingly it says:

'O crystal well!'

2. Faith is called crystal for two reasons: because it is of Christ the Bridegroom; because it has the property of crystal, pure in its truths, a limpid well clear of error, and of natural forms. It is a well because the waters of all spiritual goodness flow from it into the soul. Christ our Lord, speaking to the woman of Samaria, calls faith a well, saying, 'The water that I will give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into life everlasting.' [109] This water is the Spirit which they who believe shall receive by faith in Him. ‘Now this He said of the Spirit which they who believed in Him should receive.' [110]

'Oh that on thy silvered surface.'

3. The articles and definitions of the faith are called silvered surfaces. In order to understand these words and those that follow, we must know that faith is compared to silver because of the propositions it teaches us, the truth and substance it involves being compared to gold. This very substance which we now believe, hidden behind the silver veil of faith, we shall clearly behold and enjoy hereafter; the gold of faith shall be made manifest. Hence the Psalmist, speaking of this, saith: ‘If ye sleep amidst the lots, the wings of the dove are laid over with silver, and the hinder parts of the back in the paleness of gold.' [111] That means if we shall keep the eyes of the understanding from regarding the things of heaven and of earth--this the Psalmist calls sleeping in the midst--we shall be firm in the faith, here called dove, the wings of which are the truths laid over with silver, because in this life the faith puts these truths before us obscurely beneath a veil. This is the reason why the soul calls them silvered surface. But when faith shall have been consummated in the clear vision of God, then the substance of faith, the silver veil removed, will shine as gold.

4. As the faith gives and communicates to us God Himself, but hidden beneath the silver of faith, yet it reveals Him none the less. So if a man gives us a vessel made of gold, but covered with silver, he gives us in reality a vessel of gold, though the gold be covered over. Thus, when the bride in the Canticle was longing for the fruition of God, He promised it to her so far as the state of this life admitted of it, saying: 'We will make thee chains of gold inlaid with silver.' [112] He thus promised to give Himself to her under the veil of faith. Hence the soul addresses the faith, saying: 'Oh that on thy silvered surface'--the definitions of faith--'in which thou hidest' the gold of the divine rays-- which are the desired eyes,--instantly adding:

'Thou wouldest mirror forth at once those desired eyes!'

5. By the eyes are understood, as I have said, the rays and truths of God, which are set before us hidden and informal in the definitions of the faith. Thus the words say in substance: 'Oh that thou wouldest formally and explicitly reveal to me those hidden truths which Thou teachest implicitly and obscurely in the definitions of the faith; according to my earnest desire.' Those truths are called eyes, because of the special presence of the Beloved, of which the soul is conscious, believing Him to be perpetually regarding it; and so it says:

'Which are outlined in my heart.'

6. The soul here says that these truths are outlined in the heart-- that is, in the understanding and the will. It is through the understanding that these truths are infused into the soul by faith. They are said to be outlined because the knowledge of them is not perfect. As a sketch is not a perfect picture, so the knowledge that comes by faith is not a perfect understanding. The truths, therefore, infused into the soul by faith are as it were in outline, and when the clear vision shall be granted, then they will be as a perfect and finished picture, according to the words of the Apostle: 'When that shall come which is perfect, that shall be made void which is in part.' [113] 'That which is perfect' is the clear vision, and 'that which is in part' is the knowledge that comes by faith.

7. Besides this outline which comes by faith, there is another by love in the soul that loves--that is, in the will--in which the face of the Beloved is so deeply and vividly pictured, when the union of love occurs, that it may be truly said the Beloved lives in the loving soul, and the loving soul in the Beloved. Love produces such a resemblance by the transformation of those who love that one may be said to be the other, and both but one. The reason is, that in the union and transformation of love one gives himself up to the other as his possession, and each resigns, abandons, and exchanges himself for the other, and both become but one in the transformation wrought by love.

8. This is the meaning of St. Paul when he said, 'I live, now, not I, but Christ liveth in me.' [114] In that He saith, 'I live, now, not I,' his meaning is, that though he lived, yet the life he lived was not his own, because he was transformed in Christ: that his life was divine rather than human; and for that reason, he said it was not he that lived, but Christ Who lived in him. We may therefore say, according to this likeness of transformation, that his life and the life of Christ were one by the union of love. This will be perfect in heaven in the divine life of all those who shall merit the beatific vision; for, transformed in God, they will live the life of God and not their own, since the life of God will be theirs. Then they will say in truth. 'We live, but not we ourselves, for God liveth in us.'

9. Now, this may take place in this life, as in the case of St. Paul, but not perfectly and completely, though the soul should attain to such a transformation of love as shall be spiritual marriage, which is the highest state it can reach in this life; because all this is but an outline of love compared with the perfect image of transformation in glory. Yet, when this outline of transformation is attained in this life, it is a grand blessing, because the Beloved is so greatly pleased therewith. He desires, therefore, that the bride should have Him thus delineated in her soul, and saith unto her, 'Put Me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm.' [115] The heart here signifies the soul, wherein God in this life dwells as an impression of the seal of faith, and the arm is the resolute will, where He is as the impressed token of love.

10. Such is the state of the soul at that time. I speak but little of it, not willing to leave it altogether untouched, though no language can describe it.

11. The very substance of soul and body seems to be dried up by thirst after this living well of God, for the thirst resembles that of David when he cried out, 'As the hart longeth for the fountains of waters, so my soul longeth for Thee, O God. My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?' [116] So oppressive is this thirst to the soul, that it counts it as nothing to break through the camp of the Philistines, like the valiant men of David, to fill its pitcher with 'water out of the cisterns of Bethlehem,' [117] which is Christ. The trials of this world, the rage of the devil, and the pains of hell are nothing to pass through, in order to plunge into this fathomless fountain of love.

12. To this we may apply those words in the Canticle: 'Love is strong as death, jealousy is hard as hell.' [118] It is incredible how vehement are the longings and sufferings of the soul when it sees itself on the point of testing this good, and at the same time sees it withheld; for the nearer the object desired, the greater the pangs of its denial: 'Before I eat,' saith Job, 'I sigh, and as it were overflowing waters so my roaring' [119] and hunger for food. God is meant here by food; for in proportion to the soul's longing for food, and its knowledge of God, is the pain it suffers now.


THE source of the grievous sufferings of the soul at this time is the consciousness of its own emptiness of God--while it is drawing nearer and nearer to Him--and also, the thick darkness with the spiritual fire, which dry and purify it, that, its purification ended, it may be united with God. For when God sends not forth a ray of supernatural light into the soul, He is to it intolerable darkness when He is even near to it in spirit, for the supernatural light by its very brightness obscures the mere natural light. David referred to this when he said: 'Cloud and mist round about Him . . . a fire shall go before Him.' [120] And again: 'He put darkness His covert; His tabernacle is round about Him, darksome waters in the clouds of the air. Because of the brightness in His sight the clouds passed, hail and coals of fire.' [121] The soul that approaches God feels Him to be all this more and more the further it advances, until He shall cause it to enter within His divine brightness through the transformation of love. But the comfort and consolations of God are, by His infinite goodness, proportional to the darkness and emptiness of the soul, as it is written, 'As the darkness thereof, so also the light thereof.' [122] And because He humbles souls and wearies them, while He is exalting them and making them glorious, He sends into the soul, in the midst of its weariness, certain divine rays from Himself, in such gloriousness and strength of love as to stir it up from its very depths, and to change its whole natural condition. Thus, the soul, in great fear and natural awe, addresses the Beloved in the first words of the following stanza, the remainder of which is His answer:


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 thy flight and is refreshed.


AMID those fervent affections of love, such as the soul has shown in the preceding stanzas, the Beloved is wont to visit His bride, tenderly, lovingly, and with great strength of love; for ordinarily the graces and visits of God are great in proportion to the greatness of those fervours and longings of love which have gone before. And, as the soul has so anxiously longed for the divine eyes--as in the foregoing stanza--the Beloved reveals to it some glimpses of His majesty and Godhead, according to its desires. These divine rays strike the soul so profoundly and so vividly that it is rapt into an ecstasy which in the beginning is attended with great suffering and natural fear. Hence the soul, unable to bear the ecstasies in a body so frail, cries out, 'Turn away thine eyes from me.'

'Turn them away, O my Beloved!'

2. That is, 'Thy divine eyes, for they make me fly away out of myself to the heights of contemplation, and my natural force cannot bear it.' This the soul says because it thinks it has escaped from the burden of the flesh, which was the object of its desires; it therefore prays the Beloved to turn away His eyes; that is, not to show them in the body where it cannot bear and enjoy them as it would, but to show them to it in its flight from the body. The Bridegroom at once denies the request and hinders the flight, saying, 'Return, My Dove! for the communications I make to thee now are not those of the state of glory wherein thou desirest to be; but return to Me, for I am He Whom thou, wounded with love, art seeking, and I, too, as the hart, wounded with thy love, begin to show Myself to thee on the heights of contemplation, and am refreshed and delighted by the love which thy contemplation involves.' The soul then says to the Bridegroom:

'Turn them away, O my Beloved!'

3. The soul, because of its intense longing after the divine eyes-- that is, the Godhead--receives interiorly from the Beloved such communications and knowledge of God as compel it to cry out, 'Turn them away, O my Beloved!' For such is the wretchedness of our mortal nature, that we cannot bear--even when it is offered to us-- but at the cost of our life, that which is the very life of the soul, and the object of its earnest desires, namely, the knowledge of the Beloved. Thus the soul is compelled to say, with regard to the eyes so earnestly, so anxiously sought for, and in so many ways--when they become visible--'Turn them away.'

4. So great, at times, is the suffering of the soul during these ecstatic visitations--and there is no other pain which so wrenches the very bones, and which so oppresses our natural forces--that, were it not for the special interference of God, death would ensue. And, in truth, such is it to the soul, the subject of these visitations, for it feels as if it were released from the body and a stranger to the flesh. Such graces cannot be perfectly received in the body, because the spirit of man is lifted up to the communion of the Spirit of God, Who visits the soul, and must therefore of necessity be in some measure a stranger to the body. Hence it is that the flesh has to suffer, and consequently the soul in it, by reason of their union in one person. The great agony of the soul, therefore, in these visitations, and the great fear that overwhelms it when God deals with it in the supernatural way, [123] force it to cry out, 'Turn them away, O my Beloved!'

5. But it is not to be supposed, however, that the soul really wishes Him to turn away His eyes; for this is nothing else but the expression of natural awe, as I said before. [124] Yea, rather, cost they what they may, the soul would not willingly miss these visitations and favours of the Beloved; for though nature may suffer, the spirit flies to this supernatural recollection in order to enjoy the spirit of the Beloved, the object of its prayers and desires. The soul is unwilling to receive these visitations in the body, when it cannot have the perfect fruition of them, and only in a slight degree and in pain; but it covets them in the flight of the disembodied spirit when it can enjoy them freely. Hence it says, 'Turn them away, my Beloved'--that is, Do not visit me in the flesh.

'I am on the wing.'

6. It is as if it said, 'I am taking my flight out of the body, that Thou mayest show them when I shall have left it; they being the cause of my flight out of the body.' For the better understanding of the nature of this flight we should consider that which I said just now. [125] In this visitation of the divine Spirit the spirit of the soul is with great violence borne upwards into communion with the divine, the body is abandoned, all its acts and senses are suspended, because they are absorbed in God. Thus the Apostle, St. Paul, speaking of his own ecstasy, saith, 'Whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell.' [126] But we are not to suppose that the soul abandons the body, and that the natural life is destroyed, but only that its actions have then ceased.

7. This is the reason why the body remains insensible in raptures and ecstasies, and unconscious of the most painful inflictions. These are not like the swoons and faintings of the natural life, which cease when pain begins. They who have not arrived at perfection are liable to these visitations, for they happen to those who are walking in the way of proficients. They who are already perfect receive these visitations in peace and in the sweetness of love: ecstasies cease, for they were only graces to prepare them for this greater grace.

8. This is a fitting place for discussing the difference between raptures, ecstasies, other elevations and subtile flights of the spirit, to which spiritual persons are liable; but, as I intend to do nothing more than explain briefly this canticle, as I undertook in the prologue, I leave the subject for those who are better qualified than I am. I do this the more readily, because our mother, the blessed Teresa of Jesus, has written admirably on this matter, [127] whose writings I hope in God to see published soon. The flight of the soul in this place, then, is to be understood of ecstasy, and elevation of spirit in God. The Beloved immediately says:

'Return, My Dove.'

9. The soul was joyfully quitting the body in its spiritual flight, thinking that its natural life was over, and that it was about to enter into the everlasting fruition of the Bridegroom, and remain with Him without a veil between them. He, however, restrains it in its flight, saying:

'Return, My Dove.'

10. It is as if He said, 'O My Dove, in thy high and rapid flight of contemplation, in the love wherewith thou art inflamed, in the simplicity of thy regard'--these are three characteristics of the dove--'return from that flight in which thou aimest at the true fruition of Myself--the time is not yet come for knowledge so high--return, and submit thyself to that lower degree of it which I communicate in this thy rapture.'

'The wounded hart.'

11. The Bridegroom likens Himself to a hart, for by the hart here He means Himself. The hart by nature climbs up to high places, and when wounded hastens to seek relief in the cooling waters. If he hears his consort moan and sees that she is wounded, he runs to her at once, comforts, and caresses her. So the Bridegroom now; for, seeing the bride wounded with His love, He, too, hearing her moaning, is wounded Himself with her love; for with lovers the wound of one is the wound of the other, and they have the same feelings in common. The Bridegroom, therefore, saith in effect: 'Return, my bride, to Me; for as thou art wounded with the love of Me, I too, like the hart, am wounded by love for thee. I am like the hart, looming on the top of the hill.' Therefore He says:

'Looms on the hill.'

12. That is, 'on the heights of contemplation, to which thou hast ascended in thy flight.' Contemplation is a lofty eminence where God, in this life, begins to communicate Himself to the soul, and to show Himself, but not distinctly. Hence it is said, 'Looms on the hill,' because He does not appear clearly. However profound the knowledge of Himself which God may grant to the soul in this life, it is, after all, but an indistinct vision. We now come to the third property of the hart, the subject of the line that follows:

'In the air of thy flight, and is refreshed.'

13. The flight is contemplation in the ecstasy spoken of before, [128] and the air is the spirit of love produced in the soul by this flight of contemplation, and this love produced by the flight is here with great propriety called 'air,' for the Holy Ghost also is likened to air in the Sacred Writings, because He is the breath of the Father and the Son. And so as He is there the air of the flight--that is, that He proceeds by the will from the contemplation and wisdom of the Father and the Son, and is breathed--so here the love of the soul is called air by the Bridegroom, because it proceeds from the contemplation of God and the knowledge of Him which at this time is possessed by the soul.

14. We must observe here that the Bridegroom does not say that He cometh at the flight, but at the air of the flight, because properly speaking God does not communicate Himself to the soul because of that flight, which is, as I have said, the knowledge it has of God, but because of the love which is the fruit of that knowledge. For as love is the union of the Father and the Son, so is it also of God and the soul.

15. Hence it is that notwithstanding the most profound knowledge of God, and contemplation itself, together with the knowledge of all mysteries, the soul without love is nothing worth, and can do nothing, as the Apostle saith, towards its union with God. [129] In another place he saith, 'Have charity, which is the bond of perfection.' [130] This charity then and love of the soul make the Bridegroom run to drink of the fountain of the Bride's love, as the cooling waters attract the thirsty and the wounded hart, to be refreshed therein.

'And is refreshed.'

16. As the air cools and refreshes him who is wearied with the heat, so the air of love refreshes and comforts him who burns with the fire of love. The fire of love hath this property, the air which cools and refreshes it is an increase of the fire itself. To him who loves, love is a flame that burns with the desire of burning more and more, like the flame of material fire. The consummation of this desire of burning more and more, with the love of the bride, which is the air of her flight, is here called refreshment. The Bridegroom says in substance, 'I burn more and more because of the ardour of thy flight, for love kindles love.'

17. God does not establish His grace and love in the soul but in proportion to the good will of that soul's love. He, therefore, that truly loves God must strive that his love fail not; for so, if we may thus speak, will he move God to show him greater love, and to take greater delight in his soul. In order to attain to such a degree of love, he must practise those things of which the Apostle speaks, saying: 'Charity is patient, is benign: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh not evil, rejoiceth not upon iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.' [131]


WHEN the dove--that is the soul--was flying on the gale of love over the waters of the deluge of the weariness and longing of its love, 'not finding where her foot might rest,' [132] the compassionate father Noe, in this last flight, put forth the hand of his mercy, caught her, and brought her into the ark of his charity and love. That took place when the Bridegroom, as in the stanza now explained, said, 'Return, My Dove.' In the shelter within the ark, the soul, finding all it desired, and more than it can ever express, begins to sing the praises of the Beloved, celebrating the magnificence which it feels and enjoys in that union, saying:



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.

BEFORE I begin to explain these stanzas, I must observe, in order that they and those which follow may be better understood, that this spiritual flight signifies a certain high estate and union of love, whereunto, after many spiritual exercises, God is wont to elevate the soul: it is called the spiritual betrothal of the Word, the Son of God. In the beginning, when this occurs the first time, God reveals to it great things of Himself, makes it beautiful in majesty and grandeur, adorns it with graces and gifts, and endows it with honour, and with the knowledge of Himself, as a bride is adorned on the day of her betrothal. On this happy day the soul not only ceases from its anxieties and loving complaints, but is, moreover, adorned with all grace, entering into a state of peace and delight, and of the sweetness of love, as it appears from these stanzas, in which it does nothing else but recount and praise the magnificence of the Beloved, which it recognises in Him, and enjoys in the union of the betrothal.

2. In the stanzas that follow, the soul speaks no more of its anxieties and sufferings, as before, but of the sweet and peaceful intercourse of love with the Beloved; for now all its troubles are over. These two stanzas, which I am about to explain, contain all that God is wont at this time to bestow upon the soul; but we are not to suppose that all souls, thus far advanced, receive all that is here described, either in the same way or in the same degree of knowledge and of consciousness. Some souls receive more, others less; some in one way, some in another; and yet all may be in the state of spiritual betrothal. But in this stanza the highest possible is spoken of, because that embraces all.


3. As in the ark of Noe there were many chambers for the different kinds of animals, as the Sacred Writings tell us, and 'all food that may be eaten,' [133] so the soul, in its flight to the divine ark of the bosom of God, sees therein not only the many mansions of which our Lord speaks, but also all the food, that is, all the magnificence in which the soul may rejoice, and which are here referred to by the common terms of these stanzas. These are substantially as follows:

4. In this divine union the soul has a vision and foretaste of abundant and inestimable riches, and finds there all the repose and refreshment it desired; it attains to the secrets of God, and to a strange knowledge of Him, which is the food of those who know Him most; it is conscious of the awful power of God beyond all other power and might, tastes of the wonderful sweetness and delight of the Spirit, finds its true rest and divine light, drinks deeply of the wisdom of God, which shines forth in the harmony of the creatures and works of God; it feels itself filled with all good, emptied, and delivered from all evil, and, above all, rejoices consciously in the inestimable banquet of love which confirms it in love. This is the substance of these two stanzas.

5. The bride here says that her Beloved in Himself and to her is all the objects she enumerates; for in the ecstatic communications of God the soul feels and understands the truth of the saying of St. Francis: 'God is mine and all things are mine.' And because God is all, and the soul, and the good of all, the communication in this ecstasy is explained by the consideration that the goodness of the creatures referred to in these stanzas is a reflection of His goodness, as will appear from every line thereof. All that is here set forth is in God eminently in an infinite way, or rather, every one of these grandeurs is God, and all of them together are God. Inasmuch as the soul is one with God, it feels all things to be God according to the words of St. John: 'What was made, in Him was life.' [134]

6. But we are not to understand this consciousness of the soul as if it saw the creatures in God as we see material objects in the light, but that it feels all things to be God in this fruition of Him; neither are we to imagine that the soul sees God essentially and clearly because it has so deep a sense of Him; for this is only a strong and abundant communication from Him, a glimmering light of what He is in Himself, by which the soul discerns this goodness of all things, as I proceed to explain.

'My Beloved is the mountains.'

7. Mountains are high fertile, extensive, beautiful, lovely, flowery, and odorous. These mountains my Beloved is to me.

'The solitary wooded valleys.'

8. Solitary valleys are tranquil, pleasant, cooling, shady, abounding in sweet waters, and by the variety of trees growing in them, and by the melody of the birds that frequent them, enliven and delight the senses; their solitude and silence procure us a refreshing rest. These valleys my Beloved is to me.

'The strange islands.'

9. Strange islands are girt by the sea; they are also, because of the sea, distant and unknown to the commerce of men. They produce things very different from those with which we are conversant, in strange ways, and with qualities hitherto unknown, so as to surprise those who behold them, and fill them with wonder. Thus, then, by reason of the great and marvellous wonders, and the strange things that come to our knowledge, far beyond the common notions of men, which the soul beholds in God, it calls Him the strange islands. We say of a man that he is strange for one of two reasons: either because he withdraws himself from the society of his fellows, or because he is singular or distinguished in his life and conduct. For these two reasons together God is called strange by the soul. He is not only all that is strange in undiscovered islands, but His ways, judgments, and works are also strange, new, and marvellous to men.

10. It is nothing wonderful that God should be strange to men who have never seen Him, seeing that He is also strange to the holy angels and the souls who see Him; for they neither can nor shall ever see Him perfectly. Yea, even to the day of the last judgment they will see in Him so much that is new in His deep judgments, in His acts of mercy and justice, as to excite their wonder more and more. Thus God is the strange islands not to men only, but to the angels also; only to Himself is He neither strange nor new.

'The roaring torrents.'

11. Torrents have three properties. 1. They overflow all that is in their course. 2. They fill all hollows. 3. They overpower all other sounds by their own. And hence the soul, feeling most sweetly that these three properties belong to God, says, 'My Beloved is the roaring torrents.'

12. As to the first property of which the soul is conscious, it feels itself to be so overwhelmed with the torrent of the Spirit of God, and so violently overpowered by it, that all the waters in the world seem to it to have surrounded it, and to have drowned all its former actions and passions. Though all this be violent, yet there is nothing painful in it, for these rivers are rivers of peace, as it is written, God, speaking through Isaias, saying, 'I will decline upon her, as it were, a flood of peace, and as a torrent overflowing glory.' [135] That is, 'I will bring upon the soul, as it were, a river of peace, and a torrent overflowing with glory.' Thus this divine overflowing, like roaring torrents, fills the soul with peace and glory. The second property the soul feels is that this divine water is now filling the vessels of its humility and the emptiness of its desires, as it is written: 'He hath exalted the humble, and filled the hungry with good.' [136] The third property of which the soul is now conscious in the roaring torrents of the Beloved is a spiritual sound and voice overpowering all other sounds and voices in the world. The explanation of this will take a little time.

13. This voice, or this murmuring sound of the waters, is an overflowing so abundant as to fill the soul with good, and a power so mighty seizing upon it as to seem not only the sound of many waters, but a most loud roaring of thunder. But the voice is a spiritual voice, unattended by material sounds or the pain and torment of them, but rather with majesty, power, might, delight, and glory: it is, as it were, a voice, an infinite interior sound which endows the soul with power and might. The Apostles heard in spirit this voice when the Holy Ghost descended upon them in the sound 'as of a mighty wind,' [137] as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. In order to manifest this spiritual voice, interiorly spoken, the sound was heard exteriorly, as of a rushing wind, by all those who were in Jerusalem. This exterior manifestation reveals what the Apostles interiorly received, namely, fulness of power and might.

14. So also when our Lord Jesus prayed to the Father because of His distress and the rage of His enemies, He heard an interior voice from heaven, comforting Him in His Sacred Humanity. The sound, solemn and grave, was heard exteriorly by the Jews, some of whom said that it thundered: others said, 'An angel hath spoken to Him.' [138] The voice outwardly heard was the outward sign and expression of that strength and power which Christ then inwardly received in His human nature. We are not to suppose that the soul does not hear in spirit the spiritual voice because it is also outwardly heard. The spiritual voice is the effect on the soul of the audible voice, as material sounds strike the ear, and impress the meaning of it on the mind. This we learn from David when he said, 'He will give to His voice the voice of strength;' [139] this strength is the interior voice. He will give to His voice-- that is, the outward voice, audibly heard--the voice of strength which is felt within. God is an infinite voice, and communicating Himself thus to the soul produces the effect of an infinite voice.

15. This voice was heard by St. John, saying in the Apocalypse, 'I heard a voice from heaven as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder.' And, lest it should be supposed that a voice so strong was distressing and harsh, he adds immediately, 'The voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping on their harps.' [140] Ezechiel says that this sound as of many waters was 'as it were the sound of the High God,' [141] profoundly and sweetly communicated in it. This voice is infinite, because, as I have said, it is God Who communicates Himself, speaking in the soul; but He adapts Himself to each soul, uttering the voice of strength according to its capacity, in majesty and joy. And so the bride sings in the Canticle: 'Let Thy voice sound in my ears, for Thy voice is sweet.' [142]

'The whisper of the amorous gales.'

16. Two things are to be considered here--gales and whisper. The amorous gales are the virtues and graces of the Beloved, which, because of its union with the Bridegroom, play around the soul, and, most lovingly sent forth, touch it in their own substance. The whisper of the gales is a most sublime and sweet knowledge of God and of His attributes, which overflows into the understanding from the contact of the attributes of God with the substance of the soul. This is the highest delight of which the soul is capable in this life.

17. That we may understand this the better, we must keep in mind that as in a gale two things are observable--the touch of it, and the whisper or sound--so there are two things observable also in the communications of the Bridegroom--the sense of delight, and the understanding of it. As the touch of the air is felt in the sense of touch, and the whisper of it heard in the ear, so also the contact of the perfections of the Beloved is felt and enjoyed in the touch of the soul--that is, in the substance thereof, through the instrumentality of the will; and the knowledge of the attributes of God felt in the hearing of the soul--that is, in the understanding.

18. The gale is said to blow amorously when it strikes deliciously, satisfying his desire who is longing for the refreshing which it ministers; for it then revives and soothes the sense of touch, and while the sense of touch is thus soothed, that of hearing also rejoices and delights in the sound and whisper of the gale more than the touch in the contact of the air, because the sense of hearing is more spiritual, or, to speak with greater correctness, is more nearly connected with the spiritual than is that of touch, and the delight thereof is more spiritual than is that of the touch. So also, inasmuch as this touch of God greatly satisfies and comforts the substance of the soul, sweetly fulfilling its longing to be received into union; this union, or touch, is called amorous gales, because, as I said before, the perfections of the Beloved are by it communicated to the soul lovingly and sweetly, and through it the whisper of knowledge to the understanding. It is called whisper, because, as the whisper of the air penetrates subtiley into the organ of hearing, so this most subtile and delicate knowledge enters with marvellous sweetness and delight into the inmost substance of the soul, which is the highest of all delights.

19. The reason is that substantial knowledge is now communicated intelligibly, and stripped of all accidents and images, to the understanding, which philosophers call passive or passible, because inactive without any natural efforts of its own during this communication. This is the highest delight of the soul, because it is in the understanding, which is the seat of fruition, as theologians teach, and fruition is the vision of God. Some theologians think, inasmuch as this whisper signifies the substantial intelligence, that our father Elias had a vision of God in the delicate whisper of the air, which he heard on the mount at the mouth of the cave. The Holy Scripture calls it 'the whistling of a gentle wind,' [143] because knowledge is begotten in the understanding by the subtile and delicate communication of the Spirit. The soul calls it here the whisper of the amorous gales, because it flows into the understanding from the loving communication of the perfections of the Beloved. This is why it is called the whisper of the amorous gales.

20. This divine whisper which enters in by the ear of the soul is not only substantial knowledge, but a manifestation also of the truths of the Divinity, and a revelation of the secret mysteries thereof. For in general, in the Holy Scriptures, every communication of God said to enter in by the ear is a manifestation of pure truths to the understanding, or a revelation of the secrets of God. These are revelations on purely spiritual visions, and are communicated directly to the soul without the intervention of the senses, and thus, what God communicates through the spiritual ear is most profound and most certain. When St. Paul would express the greatness of the revelations made to him, he did not say, 'I saw or I perceived secret words,' but 'I heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter.' [144] It is thought that St. Paul also saw God, as our father Elias, in the whisper of a gentle air. For as 'faith cometh by hearing'--so the Apostle teaches--that is, by the hearing of the material ear, so also that which the faith teaches, the intelligible truth, cometh by spiritual hearing.

21. The prophet Job, speaking to God, when He revealed Himself unto him, teaches the same doctrine, saying, 'With the hearing of the ear I have heard Thee, but now my eye seeth Thee.' [145] It is clear, from this, that to hear with the ear of the soul is to see with the eye of the passive understanding. He does not say, 'I heard with the hearing of my ears,' but 'with the hearing of my ear'; nor, 'with the seeing of my eyes,' but 'with the eye of my understanding'; the hearing of the soul is, therefore, the vision of the understanding.

22. Still, we are not to think that what the soul perceives, though pure truth, can be the perfect and clear fruition of Heaven. For though it be free from accidents, as I said before, [146] it is dim and not clear, because it is contemplation, which in this life, as St. Dionysius saith, 'is a ray of darkness,' [147] and thus we may say that it is a ray and an image of fruition, because it is in the understanding, which is the seat of fruition. This substantial truth, called here a whisper, is the 'eyes desired' which the Beloved showed to the bride, who, unable to bear the vision, cried, 'Turn them away, O my Beloved.' [148]

23. There is a passage in the book of Job which greatly confirms what I have said of rapture and betrothal, and, because I consider it to be much to the purpose, I will give it here, though it may delay us a little, and explain those portions of it which belong to my subject. The explanation shall be short, and when I shall have made it, I shall go on to explain the other stanza. The passage is as follows: 'To me there was spoken a secret word,' said Eliphaz the Themanite, 'and, as it were, my ear by stealth received the veins of its whisper. In the horror of a vision by night, when deep sleep is wont to hold men, fear held me and trembling, and all my bones were made sore afraid: and when the spirit passed before me the hair of my flesh stood upright. There stood one whose countenance I knew not, an image before mine eyes, and I heard the voice, as it were, of a gentle wind.' [149]

24. This passage contains almost all I said about rapture in the thirteenth stanza, where the bride says: 'Turn them away, O my Beloved.' The 'word spoken in secret' to Eliphaz is that secret communication which by reason of its greatness the soul was not able to endure, and, therefore, cried out: 'Turn them away, O my Beloved.' Eliphaz says that his 'ear as it were by stealth received the veins of its whisper.' By that is meant the pure substance which the understanding receives, for the 'veins' here denote the interior substance. The whisper is that communication and touch of the virtues whereby the said substance is communicated to the understanding. It is called a whisper because of its great gentleness. And the soul calls it the amorous gales because it is lovingly communicated. It is said to be received as it were by stealth, for as that which is stolen is alienated, so this secret is alien to man, speaking in the order of nature, because that which he received does not appertain to him naturally, and thus it was not lawful for him to receive it; neither was it lawful for St. Paul to repeat what he heard. For this reason the prophet saith twice, 'My secret to myself, my secret to myself.' [150]

25. When Eliphaz speaks of the horror of the vision by night, and of the fear and trembling that seized upon him, he refers to the awe and dread that comes upon the soul naturally in rapture, because in its natural strength it is unable, as I said before, [151] to endure the communication of the Spirit of God. The prophet gives us to understand that, as when sleep is about to fall upon men, a certain vision which they call a nightmare is wont to oppress and terrify them in the interval between sleeping and waking, which is the moment of the approach of sleep, so in the spiritual passage between the sleep of natural ignorance and the waking of the supernatural understanding, which is the beginning of an ecstasy or rapture, the spiritual vision then revealed makes the soul fear and tremble.

26. 'All my bones were affrighted'; that is, were shaken and disturbed. By this he meant a certain dislocation of the bones which takes place when the soul falls into an ecstasy. This is clearly expressed by Daniel when he saw the angel, saying, 'O my lord, at the sight of thee my joints are loosed.' [152] 'When the spirit passed before me'--that is, 'When my spirit was made to transcend the ways and limitations of nature in ecstasies and raptures'--'the hair of my flesh stood upright'; that is, ‘my body was chilled, and the flesh contracted, like that of a dead man.'

27. 'There stood One'--that is God, Who reveals Himself after this manner--'Whose countenance knew not': in these communications or visions, however high they may be, the soul neither knows nor beholds the face and being of God. 'An image before my eyes'; that is, the knowledge of the secret words was most deep, as it were the image and face of God; but still this is not the essential vision of God. 'I heard the voice, as it were, of a gentle wind'; this is the whisper of the amorous gales--that is, of the Beloved of the soul.

28. But it is not to be supposed that these visits of God are always attended by such terrors and distress of nature: that happens to them only who are entering the state of illumination and perfection, and in this kind of communication; for in others they come with great sweetness.


'THE tranquil night.' In this spiritual sleep in the bosom of the Beloved the soul is in possession and fruition of all the calm, repose, and quiet of a peaceful night, and receives at the same time in God a certain dim, unfathomable divine intelligence. This is the reason why it says that the Beloved is to it the tranquil night.

2. 'At the approaches of the dawn.' This tranquil night is not like a night of darkness, but rather like the night when the sunrise is drawing nigh. This tranquillity and repose in God is not all darkness to the soul, as the dark night is, but rather tranquillity and repose in the divine light and in a new knowledge of God, whereby the mind, most sweetly tranquil, is raised to a divine light.

3. This divine light is here very appropriately called the approaches of the dawn, that is, the twilight; for as the twilight of the morn disperses the darkness of the night and reveals the light of day, so the mind, tranquil and reposing in God, is raised up from the darkness of natural knowledge to the morning light of the supernatural knowledge of God; not clear, indeed, as I have said, but dim, like the night at the approaches of the dawn. For as it is then neither wholly night nor wholly day, but, as they say, twilight, so this solitude and divine repose is neither perfectly illumined by the divine light nor yet perfectly alien from it.

4. In this tranquillity the understanding is lifted up in a strange way above its natural comprehension to the divine light: it is like a man who, after a profound sleep, opens his eyes to unexpected light. This knowledge is referred to by David when he says, 'I have watched, and am become as the lonely sparrow on the housetop'; [153] that is, 'I opened the eyes of my understanding and was raised up above all natural comprehension, lonely, without them, on the housetop, lifted up above all earthly considerations.' He says that he was 'become as the lonely sparrow,' because in this kind of contemplation, the spirit has the properties of the sparrow. These are five in number:i. It frequents in general high places; and the spirit, in this state, rises to the highest contemplation.ii. It is ever turning its face in the direction of the wind, and the spirit turns its affections thither whence comes the spirit of love, which is God.iii. It is in general solitary, abstaining from the companionship of others, and flying away when any approach it: so the spirit, in contemplation, is far away from all worldly thoughts, lonely in its avoidance of them; neither does it consent to anything except to this solitude in God.iv. It sings most sweetly, and so also does the spirit at this time sing unto God; for the praises which it offers up proceed from the sweetest love, most pleasing to itself, and most precious in the sight of God.v. It is of no definite colour; so also is the perfect spirit, which in this ecstasy is not only without any tinge of sensual affection or self-love, but also without any particular consideration of the things of heaven or earth; neither can it give any account whatever of them, because it has entered into the abyss of the knowledge of God.

'The silent music.'

5. In this silence and tranquillity of the night, and in this knowledge of the divine light, the soul discerns a marvellous arrangement and disposition of God's wisdom in the diversities of His creatures and operations. All these, and each one of them, have a certain correspondence with God, whereby each, by a voice peculiar to itself, proclaims what there is in itself of God, so as to form a concert of sublimest melody, transcending all the harmonies of the world. This is the silent music, because it is knowledge tranquil and calm, without audible voice; and thus the sweetness of music and the repose of silence are enjoyed in it. The soul says that the Beloved is silent music, because this harmony of spiritual music is in Him understood and felt. He is not this only, He is also--

'The murmuring solitude.'

6. This is almost the same as the silent music. For though the music is inaudible to the senses and the natural powers, it is a solitude most full of sound to the spiritual powers. These powers being in solitude, emptied of all forms and natural apprehensions, may well receive in spirit, like a resounding voice, the spiritual impression of the majesty of God in Himself and in His creatures; as it happened to St. John, who heard in spirit as it were 'the voice of harpers harping on their harps.' [154] St. John heard this in spirit: it was not material harps that he heard, but a certain knowledge that he had of the praises of the blessed, which every one of them, each in his own degree of glory, is continually singing before God. It is as it were music. For as every one of the saints had the gifts of God in a different way, so every one of them sings His praises in a different way, and yet all harmonise in one concert of love, as in music.

7. In the same way, in this tranquil contemplation, the soul beholds all creatures, not only the highest, but the lowest also, each one according to the gift of God to it, sending forth the voice of its witness to what God is. It beholds each one magnifying Him in its own way, and possessing Him according to its particular capacity; and thus all these voices together unite in one strain in praise of God's greatness, wisdom, and marvellous knowledge. This is the meaning of those words of the Holy Ghost in the Book of Wisdom: 'The Spirit of our Lord hath replenished the whole world, and that which containeth all things hath the knowledge of the voice.' [155] 'The voice' is the murmuring solitude, which the soul is said to know, namely, the witness which all things bear to God. Inasmuch as the soul hears this music only in solitude and in estrangement from all outward things, it calls it silent music and murmuring solitude. These are the Beloved.

'The supper which revives, and enkindles love.'

8. Lovers find recreation, satisfaction, and love in feasts. And because the Beloved in this sweet communication produces these three effects in the soul, He is here said to be the supper that revives, and enkindles love. In Holy Scripture supper signifies the divine vision, for as supper is the conclusion of the day's labours, and the beginning of the night's repose, so the soul in this tranquil knowledge is made to feel that its trials are over, the possession of good begun, and its love of God increased. Hence, then, the Beloved is to the soul the supper that revives, in being the end of its trials, and that enkindles love, in being the beginning of the fruition of all good.

9. That we may see more clearly how the Bridegroom is the supper of the soul, we must refer to those words of the Beloved in the Apocalypse: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man shall hear My voice, and open to Me the gate, I will enter in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.' [156] It is evident from these words that He brings the supper with Him, which is nothing else but His own sweetness and delights, wherein He rejoiceth Himself, and which He, uniting Himself to the soul, communicates to it, making it a partaker of His joy: for this is the meaning of 'I will sup with him, and he with Me.' These words describe the effect of the divine union of the soul with God, wherein it shares the very goods of God Himself, Who communicates them graciously and abundantly to it. Thus the Beloved is Himself the supper which revives, and enkindles love, refreshing the soul with His abundance, and enkindling its love in His graciousness.

10. But before I proceed to explain the stanzas which follow, I must observe that, in the state of betrothal, wherein the soul enjoys this tranquillity, and wherein it receives all that it can receive in this life, we are not to suppose its tranquillity to be perfect, but that the higher part of it is tranquil; for the sensual part, except in the state of spiritual marriage, never loses all its imperfect habits, and its powers are never wholly subdued, as I shall show hereafter. [157] What the soul receives now is all that it can receive in the state of betrothal, for in that of the marriage the blessings are greater. Though the bride- soul has great joy in these visits of the Beloved in the state of betrothal, still it has to suffer from His absence, to endure trouble and afflictions in the lower part, and at the hands of the devil. But all this ceases in the state of spiritual marriage.


THE bride now in possession of the virtues in their perfection, whereby she is ordinarily rejoicing in peace when the Beloved visits her, is now and then in the fruition of the fragrance and sweetness of those virtues in the highest degree, because the Beloved touches them within her, just as the sweetness and beauty of the lilies and other flowers when in their bloom are perceived when we handle them. For in many of these visits the soul discerns within itself all its virtues which God has given it; He shedding light upon them. The soul now, with marvellous joy and sweetness of love, binds them together and presents them to the Beloved as a nosegay of beautiful flowers, and the Beloved in accepting them-- for He truly accepts them then--accepts thereby a great service. All this takes place within the soul, feeling that the Beloved is within it as on His own couch, for the soul presents itself with the virtues which is the greatest service it can render Him, and thus this is one of the greatest joys which in its interior converse with God the soul is wont to receive in presents of this kind made to the Beloved.

2. The devil, beholding this prosperity of the soul, and in his great malice envying all the good he sees in it, now uses all his power, and has recourse to all his devices, in order to thwart it, if possible, even in the slightest degree. He thinks it of more consequence to keep back the soul, even for an instant, from this abundance, bliss, and delight, than to make others fall into many and mortal sins. Other souls have little or nothing to lose, while this soul has much, having gained many and great treasures; for the loss of one grain of refined gold is greater than the loss of many of the baser metals.

3. The devil here has recourse to the sensual appetites, though now they can give him generally but little or no help because they are mortified, and because he cannot turn them to any great account in distracting the imagination. Sometimes he stirs up many movements in the sensitive part of the soul, and causes other vexations, spiritual as well as sensual, from which the soul is unable to deliver itself until our Lord shall send His angel, as it is written, 'The angel of the Lord shall put in himself about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them;' [158] and so establish peace, both in the spiritual and sensitive parts of the soul. With a view to show forth this truth, and to ask this favour, the soul, apprehensive by experience of the craft which the devil makes use of to thwart this good, addressing itself to the angels, whose function it is to succour it at this time by putting the evil spirits to flight, speaks as in the following stanza:


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

THE soul, anxious that this interior delight of love, which is the flowers of the vineyard, should not be interrupted, either by envious and malicious devils, or the raging desires of sensuality, or the various comings and goings of the imagination, or any other consciousness or presence of created things, calls upon the angels to seize and hinder all these from interrupting its practice of interior love, in the joy and sweetness of which the soul and the Son of God communicate and delight in the virtues and graces.

'Catch us the foxes, for our vineyard hath flourished.'

2. The vineyard is the plantation in this holy soul of all the virtues which minister to it the wine of sweet taste. The vineyard of the soul is then flourishing when it is united in will to the Bridegroom, and delights itself in Him in all the virtues. Sometimes, as I have just said, the memory and the fancy are assailed by various forms and imaginings, and divers motions and desires trouble the sensual part. The great variety and diversity of these made David say, when he felt the inconvenience and the trouble of them as he was drinking of the sweet wine of the spirit, thirsting greatly after God: 'For Thee my soul hath thirsted, for Thee my flesh, O how many ways.' [159]

3. Here the soul calls the whole troop of desires and stirrings of sense, foxes, because of the great resemblance between them at this time. As foxes pretend to be asleep that they may pounce upon their prey when it comes in their way, so all the desires and powers of sense in the soul are asleep until the flowers of virtue grow, flourish, and bloom. Then the desires and powers of sense awake to resist the Spirit and domineer. 'The flesh lusteth against the spirit,' [160] and as the inclination of it is towards the sensual desires, it is disgusted as soon as it tastes of the Spirit, and herein the desires prove extremely troublesome to spiritual sweetness.

'Catch us the foxes.'

4. The evil spirits now molest the soul in two ways. They vehemently excite the desires, and employ them with other imaginations to assail the peaceful and flourishing kingdom of the soul. Then--and this is much worse--when they do not succeed in stirring up the desires, they assail the soul with bodily pains and noises in order to distract it. And, what is still more serious, they fight with spiritual horror and dread, and sometimes with fearful torments, which, at this time, if God permits them, they can most effectually bring about, for inasmuch as the soul is now spiritually detached, so as to perform its spiritual exercises, the devil being himself a spirit presents himself before it with great ease.

5. At other times the evil spirit assails the soul with other horrors, before it begins to have the fruition of the sweet flowers, when God is beginning to draw it forth out of the house of sense that it may enter on the interior exercises in the garden of the Bridegroom, for he knows well that once entered into this state of recollection it is there so protected that, notwithstanding all he can do, he cannot hurt it. Very often, too, when the devil goes forth to meet the soul, the soul becomes quickly recollected in the secret depths of its interior, where it finds great sweetness and protection; then those terrors of Satan are so far off that they not only produce no fear, but are even the occasion of peace and joy. The bride, in the Canticle, speaks of these terrors, saying, 'My soul troubled me for the chariots of Aminadab.' [161] Aminadab is the evil spirit, and his chariots are his assaults upon the soul, which he makes with great violence, noise, and confusion.

6. The bride also says what the soul says here, namely: 'Catch us the little foxes that destroy the vineyards; for our vineyard hath flourished.' [162] She does not say, 'Catch me' but 'Catch us,' because she is speaking of herself and the Beloved; for they are one, and enjoy the flourishing of the vineyard together.

7. The reason why the vineyard is said to be flourishing and not bearing fruit is this: the soul in this life has the fruition of virtues, however perfect they may be, only in their flower, because the fruit of them is reserved for the life to come.

'While of roses we make a nosegay.'

8. Now, at this time, while the soul is rejoicing in the flourishing of the vineyard, and delighting itself in the bosom of the Beloved, all its virtues are perfect, exhibiting themselves to the soul, and sending forth great sweetness and delight. The soul feels them to be in itself and in God so as to seem to be one vineyard most flourishing and pleasing belonging to both, wherein they feed and delight. Then the soul binds all its virtues together, makes acts of love in each of them separately, and in all together, and then offers them all to the Beloved, with great tenderness of love and sweetness, and in this the Beloved helps it, for without His help and favour it cannot make this union and oblation of virtue to the Beloved. Hence it says, 'We make a nosegay'--that is 'the Beloved and myself.'

9. This union of the virtues is called a nosegay; for as a nosegay is cone-like in form, and a cone is strong, containing and embracing many pieces firmly joined together, so this cone-like nosegay of the virtues which the soul makes for the Beloved is the uniform perfection of the soul which firmly and solidly contains and embraces many perfections, great virtues, and rich endowments; for all the perfections and virtues of the soul unite together to form but one. And while this perfection is being accomplished, and when accomplished, offered to the Beloved on the part of the soul, it becomes necessary to catch the foxes that they may not hinder this mutual interior communication. The soul prays not only that this nosegay may be carefully made, but also adds, 'And let no one appear on the hill.'

10. This divine interior exercise requires solitude and detachment from all things, whether in the lower part of the soul, which is that of sense, or in the higher, which is the rational. These two divisions comprise all the faculties and senses of man, and are here called the hill; because all our natural notions and desires being in them, as quarry on a hill, the devil lies in wait among these notions and desires, in order that he may injure the soul.

'And let no one appear on the hill.'

11. That is, let no representation or image of any object whatever, appertaining to any of these faculties or senses, appear in the presence of the soul and the Bridegroom: in other words, let the spiritual powers of the soul, memory, understanding, and will, be divested of all notions, particular inclinations, or considerations whatsoever; and let all the senses and faculties of the body, interior as well as exterior, the imagination, the fancy, the sight and hearing, and the rest, be divested of all occasions of distractions, of all forms, images, and representations, and of all other natural operations.

12. The soul speaks in this way because it is necessary for the perfect fruition of this communication of God, that all the senses and powers, both interior and exterior, should be disencumbered and emptied of their proper objects and operations; for the more active they are, the greater will be the hindrance which they will occasion. The soul having attained to a certain interior union of love, the spiritual faculties of it are no longer active, and still less those of the body; for now that the union of love is actually wrought in love, the faculties of the soul cease from their exertions, because now that the goal is reached all employment of means is at an end. What the soul at this time has to do is to wait lovingly upon God, and this waiting is love in a continuation of unitive love. Let no one, therefore, appear on the hill, but the will only waiting on the Beloved in the offering up of self and of all the virtues in the way described.


FOR the clearer understanding of the following stanza, we must keep in mind that the absence of the Beloved, from which the soul suffers in the state of spiritual betrothal, is an exceedingly great affliction, and at times greater than all other trials whatever. The reason is this: the love of the soul for God is now so vehement and deep that the pain of His absence is vehement and deep also. This pain is increased also by the annoyance which comes from intercourse with creatures, which is very great; for the soul, under the pressure of its quickened desire of union with God, finds all other conversation most painful and difficult to endure. It is like a stone in its flight to the place whither it is rapidly tending; every obstacle it meets with occasions a violent shock. And as the soul has tasted of the sweetness of the Beloved's visits, which are more desirable than gold and all that is beautiful, it therefore dreads even a momentary absence, and addresses itself as follows to aridities, and to the Spirit of the Bridegroom:--


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.

BESIDE the causes mentioned in the foregoing stanza, spiritual dryness also hinders the fruition of this interior sweetness of which I have been speaking, and afraid of it the soul had recourse to two expedients, to which it refers in the present stanza. The first is to shut the door against it by unceasing prayer and devotion. The second, to invoke the Holy Ghost; it is He Who drives away dryness from the soul, maintains and increases its love of the Bridegroom--that He may establish in it the practice of virtue, and all this to the end that the Son of God, its Bridegroom, may rejoice and delight in it more and more, for its only aim is to please the Beloved.

'Killing north wind, cease.'

2. The north wind is exceedingly cold; it dries up and parches flowers and plants, and at the least, when it blows, causes them to draw in and shrink. So, dryness of spirit and the sensible absence of the Beloved, because they produce the same effect on the soul, exhausting the sweetness and fragrance of virtue, are here called the killing north wind; for all the virtues and affective devotions of the soul are then dead. Hence the soul addresses itself to it, saying, 'Killing north wind, cease.' These words mean that the soul applies itself to spiritual exercise, in order to escape aridity. But the communications of God are now so interior that by no exertion of its faculties can the soul attain to them if the Spirit of the Bridegroom do not cause these movements of love. The soul, therefore, addresses Him, saying:

'Come, south wind, that awakenest love.'

3. The south wind is another wind commonly called the south-west wind. It is soft, and brings rain; it makes the grass and plants grow, flowers to blossom and scatter their perfume abroad; in short, it is the very opposite in its effects of the north wind. By it is meant here the Holy Ghost, Who awakeneth love; for when this divine Breath breathes on the soul, it so inflames and refreshes it, so quickens the will, and stirs up the desires, which were before low and asleep as to the love of God, that we may well say of it that it quickens the love between Him and the soul. The prayer of the soul to the Holy Ghost is thus expressed, 'Blow through my garden.'

4. This garden is the soul itself. For as the soul said of itself before, that it was a flourishing vineyard, because the flowers of virtue which are in it give forth the wine of sweetness, so here it says of itself that it is a garden, because the flowers of perfection and the virtues are planted in it, flourish, and grow.

5. Observe, too, that the expression is 'blow through my garden,' not blow in it. There is a great difference between God's breathing into the soul and through it. To breathe into the soul is to infuse into it graces, gifts, and virtues; to breathe through it is, on the part of God, to touch and move its virtues and perfections now possessed, renewing them and stirring them in such a way that they send forth their marvellous fragrance and sweetness. Thus aromatic spices, when shaken or touched, give forth the abundant odours which are not otherwise so distinctly perceived. The soul is not always in the conscious fruition of its acquired and infused virtues, because, in this life, they are like flowers in seed, or in bud, or like aromatic spices covered over, the perfume of which is not perceived till they are exposed and shaken.

6. But God sometimes is so merciful to the bride-soul, as--the Holy Ghost breathing meanwhile through the flourishing garden--to open these buds of virtue and expose the aromatic herbs of the soul's gifts, perfections, and riches, to manifest to it its interior treasures and to reveal to it all its beauty. It is then marvellous to behold, and sweet to feel, the abundance of the gifts now revealed in the soul, and the beauty of the flowers of virtue now flourishing in it. No language can describe the fragrance which every one of them diffuses, each according to its kind. This state of the soul is referred to in the words, 'Let its odours flow.'

7. So abundant are these odours at times, that the soul seems enveloped in delight and bathed in inestimable bliss. Not only is it conscious itself of them, but they even overflow it, so that those who know how to discern these things can perceive them. The soul in this state seems to them as a delectable garden, full of the joys and riches of God. This is observable in holy souls, not only when the flowers open, but almost always; for they have a certain air of grandeur and dignity which inspires the beholders with awe and reverence, because of the supernatural effects of their close and familiar converse with God. We have an illustration of this in the life of Moses, the sight of whose face the people could not bear, by reason of the glory that rested upon it--the effect of his speaking to God face to face. [163]

8. While the Holy Ghost is breathing through the garden--this is His visitation of the soul--the Bridegroom Son of God communicates Himself to it in a profound way, enamoured of it. It is for this that He sends the Holy Spirit before Him--as He sent the Apostles [164]--to make ready the chamber of the soul His bride, comforting it with delight, setting its garden in order, opening its flowers, revealing its gifts, and adorning it with the tapestry of graces. The bride-soul longs for this with all its might, and therefore bids the north wind not to blow, and invokes the south wind to blow through the garden, because she gains much here at once.

9. The bride now gains the fruition of all her virtues in their sweetest exercise. She gains the fruition of her Beloved in them, because it is through them that He converses with her in most intimate love, and grants her favours greater than any of the past. She gains, too, that her Beloved delights more in her because of the actual exercise of virtue, which is what pleases her most, namely, that her Beloved should be pleased with her. She gains also the permanent continuance of the sweet fragrance which remains in the soul while the Bridegroom is present, and the bride entertains Him with the sweetness of her virtues, as it is written: 'While the King was at His repose,' that is, in the soul, 'my spikenard sent forth its odour.' [165] The spikenard is the soul, which from the flowers of its virtues sends forth sweet odours to the Beloved, Who dwells within it in the union of love.

10. It is therefore very much to be desired that every soul should pray the Holy Ghost to blow through its garden, that the divine odours of God may flow. And as this is so necessary, so blissful and profitable to the soul, the bride desires it, and prays for it, in the words of the Canticle, saying, 'Arise, north wind, and come, south wind; blow through my garden, and let the aromatical spices thereof flow.' [166] The soul prays for this, not because of the delight and bliss consequent upon it, but because of the delight it ministers to the Beloved, and because it prepares the way and announces the presence of the Son of God, Who cometh to rejoice in it. Hence the soul adds:

'And my Beloved shall feed among the flowers.'

11. The delight which the Son of God finds now in the soul is described as pasture. This word expresses most forcibly the truth, because pasture not only gladdeneth, but also sustaineth. Thus the Son of God delights in the soul, in the delights thereof, and is sustained in them--that is, He abides within it as in a place which pleases Him exceedingly, because the place itself really delights in Him. This, I believe, is the meaning of those words recorded in the proverbs of Solomon: 'My delights were to be with the children of men;' [167] that is, when they delight to be with Me, Who am the Son of God.

12. Observe, here, that it is not said that the Beloved shall feed on the flowers, but that He shall feed among the flowers. For, as the communications of the Beloved are in the soul itself, through the adornment of the virtues, it follows that what He feeds on is the soul which He transformed into Himself, now that it is prepared and adorned with these flowers of virtues, graces, and perfections, which are the things whereby, and among which, He feeds. These, by the power of the Holy Ghost, are sending forth in the soul the odours of sweetness to the Son of God, that He may feed there the more in the love thereof; for this is the love of the Bridegroom, to be united to the soul amid the fragrance of the flowers.

13. The bride in the Canticle has observed this, for she had experience of it, saying: 'My Beloved is gone down into His garden, to the bed of aromatical spices,to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I to my Beloved, and my Beloved to me, Who feedeth among the lilies' [168] That is, 'Who feedeth and delighteth in my soul, which is His garden, among the lilies of my virtues, perfections, and graces.'


IN the state of spiritual espousals the soul contemplating its great riches and excellence, but unable to enter into the possession and fruition of them as it desires, because it is still in the flesh, often suffers exceedingly, and then more particularly when its knowledge of them becomes more profound. It then sees itself in the body, like a prince in prison, subject to all misery, whose authority is disregarded, whose territories and wealth are confiscated, and who of his former substance receives but a miserable dole. How greatly he suffers any one may see, especially when his household is no longer obedient, and his slaves and servants, forgetting all respect, plunder him of the scanty provisions of his table. Thus is it with the soul in the body, for when God mercifully admits it to a foretaste of the good things which He has prepared for it, the wicked servants of desire in the sensual part, now a slave of disorderly motions, now other rebellious movements, rise up against it in order to rob it of its good.

2. The soul feels itself as if it were in the land of enemies, tyrannised over by the stranger, like the dead among the dead. Its feelings are those which the prophet Baruch gave vent to when he described the misery of Jacob's captivity: 'How happeneth it, O Israel, that thou art in thy enemies' land? thou art grown old in a strange country, thou art defiled with the dead: thou art counted with them that go down into hell.' [169] This misery of the soul, in the captivity of the body, is thus spoken of by Jeremias, saying: 'Is Israel a bondman or a home-born slave? Why then is he become a prey? The lions have roared upon him, and have made a noise.' [170] The lions are the desires and the rebellious motions of the tyrant king of sensuality. In order to express the trouble which this tyrant occasions, and the desire of the soul to see this kingdom of sensuality with all its hosts destroyed, or wholly subject to the spirit, the soul lifting up its eyes to the Bridegroom, as to one who can effect it, speaks against those rebellious motions in the words of the next stanza.


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.

IT is the bride that speaks; for seeing herself, as to the higher part of the soul, adorned with the rich endowments of her Beloved, and seeing Him delighting in her, she desires to preserve herself in security, and in the continued fruition of them. Seeing also that hindrances will arise, as in fact they do, from the sensual part of the soul, which will disturb so great a good, she bids the operations and motions of the soul's lower nature to cease, in the senses and faculties of it, and sensuality not to overstep its boundaries to trouble and disquiet the higher and spiritual portion of the soul: not to hinder even for a moment the sweetness she enjoys. The motions of the lower part, and their powers, if they show themselves during the enjoyment of the spirit, are so much more troublesome and disturbing, the more active they are.

'O nymphs of Judea.'

2. The lower, that is the sensual part of the soul, is called Judea. It is called Judea because it is weak, and carnal, and blind, like the Jewish people. All the imaginations, fancies, motions, and inclinations of the lower part of the soul are called nymphs, for as nymphs with their beauty and attractions entice men to love them, so the operations and motions of sensuality softly and earnestly strive to entice the will from the rational part, in order to withdraw it from that which is interior, and to fix it on that which is exterior, to which they are prone themselves. They also strive to influence the understanding to join with them in their low views, and to bring down reason to the level of sense by the attractions of the latter. The soul, therefore, says in effect: 'O sensual operations and motions.'

'While amid the flowers and the rose-trees.'

3. The flowers, as I have said, are the virtues of the soul, and the rose-trees are its powers, memory, understanding, and will, which produce and nurture the flowers of divine conceptions, acts of love and the virtues, while the amber sends forth its perfume in the virtues and powers of the soul.

'The amber sends forth its perfume.'

4. The amber is the divine spirit of the Bridegroom Who dwells in the soul. To send forth the perfume among the flowers and the rose-trees, is to diffuse and communicate Himself most sweetly in the powers and virtues of the soul, thereby filling it with the perfume of divine sweetness. Meanwhile, then, when the Divine Spirit is filling my soul with spiritual sweetness,

'Tarry in the suburbs.'

5. In the suburbs of Judea, which is the inferior or sensual part of the soul. The suburbs are the interior senses, namely, memory, fancy, and imagination, where forms and images of things collect, by the help of which sensuality stirs up concupiscence and desires. These forms are the nymphs, and while they are quiet and tranquil the desires are also asleep. They enter into the suburbs of the interior senses by the gates of the outward senses, of sight, hearing, smell, etc. We can thus give the name of suburbs to all the powers and interior or exterior senses of the sensual part of the soul, because they are outside the walls of the city.

6. That part of the soul which may be called the city is that which is most interior, the rational part, which is capable of converse with God, the operations of which are contrary to those of sensuality. But there is a natural intercourse between those who dwell in the suburbs of the sensual part--that is, the nymphs-- and those who dwell in the higher part, which is the city itself; and, therefore, what takes place in the lower part is ordinarily felt in the higher, and consequently compels attention to itself and disturbs the spiritual operation which is conversant with God. Hence the soul bids the nymphs tarry in the suburbs--that is, to remain at rest in the exterior and interior senses of the sensual part,

'And touch not our thresholds.'

7. Let not even your first movements touch the higher part, for the first movements of the soul are the entrance and thresholds of it. When the first movements have passed into the reason, they have crossed the threshold, but when they remain as first movements only they are then said merely to touch the threshold, or to cry at the gate, which is the case when reason and sense contend over an unreasonable act. The soul here not only bids these not to touch it, but also charges all considerations whatever which do not minister to its repose and the good it enjoys to keep far away.


THE soul in this state is become so great an enemy of the lower part, and its operations, that it would have God communicate nothing to it when He communicates with the higher. If He will communicate with the lower, it must be in a slight degree, or the soul, because of its natural weakness, will be unable to endure it without fainting, and consequently the spirit cannot rejoice in peace, because it is then troubled. 'For,' as the wise man says, 'the body that is corrupted burdeneth the soul.' [171] And as the soul longs for the highest and noblest converse with God, which is impossible in the company of the sensual part, it begs of God to deal with it without the intervention of the senses. That sublime vision of St. Paul in the third heaven, wherein, he says, he saw God, but yet knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body, must have been, be it what it may, independent of the body: for if the body had any share in it, he must have known it, and the vision could not have been what it was, seeing that he 'heard secret words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.' [172] The soul, therefore, knowing well that graces so great cannot be received in a vessel so mean, and longing to receive them out of the body,--or at least without it, addresses the Bridegroom in the words that follow:

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A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and The Bridegroom Christ
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