St. John of the Cross; a new sonnet

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross also has his day in dark December, just the day after St. Lucy in fact. That seems right for the saint who, more than any other, understood and dealt with the darkness that sometimes comes upon us, the saint who gave us the phrase ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’.

John encountered darkness not only spiritually and psychologically, but actually: both physical darkness and the darkness of human evil when he was imprisoned in a dark dungeon by fellow Christians and indeed, members of his own order! But he did not give in to darkness, rather he perceived that it might become fruitful, the darkness not of evil but of God, that the way down might become the way up, that hidden even in the deepest darkness was the promise of that light which the darkness can never overcome. So he wrote that beautiful poem ‘Although it is the Night’, which Seamus Heaney translated so movingly, opening with the line:

How well I know that fountain, filling., running,

Although it is the night.

The other deep element in his writing is the way he understands Christ as our true lover and is able to draw on the deepest language of human loving to give voice to his intimate relationship with Christ.

I have drawn on ‘Although it is the Night’, poem and on some of the elements in his story and his spiritual writings in making the following sonnet in his honour. My sonnet also reflects on the fact that his day falls in Advent when we are all waiting in Darkness for the coming of God’s marvellous light. As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play button’.  There is a very fine meditation on St. John of the Cross and a song to go with it on Steve Bell‘s lovely Advent snippet book, which you can find Here

John of the Cross

Deep in the dark your brothers locked you up

But not so deep as your dear Love could dive,

There at the end of colour, sense and shape,

The dark dead end that tells us we’re alive,

You sang aloud and found your absent lover,

As light’s true end comes with the end of light.

In the rich midnight came the lovely other,

You saw him plain although it was the night.


And now you call us all to hear that Fountain

Singing and playing well before the Dawn

The sun is still below this shadowed mountain

We wait in darkness for him to be born.

Before he rises, light-winged with the lark,

We’ll meet with our beloved in the dark.

El Greco's landscape of Toledo depicts the priory in which John was held captive

El Greco’s landscape of Toledo depicts the priory in which John was held captive


Filed under imagination, literature

6 responses to “St. John of the Cross; a new sonnet

  1. The dark dead end that tells us we’re alive…
    Thank you, Malcolm…

  2. RuthiandBruce

    Dear Malcolm,

    We live in Vancouver and had the privilege of hearing you speak / do a poetry reading at Regent College in 2013. What a wonderful public lecture you gave! Thank you.

    We follow your posts closely — and we regularly attend Steve Bell concerts (so have heard “your voice” in his performances!), whenever he comes to Canada’s west coast.

    We appreciate so much receiving your posts and sonnets, and want to continue to receive them.

    We have recently changed our email address; our “Shaw” account will be closed within the next 2 weeks.

    Would you kindly change our email address to the following:

    Many thanks. We looks forward to receiving your posts / sonnets on our new gmail account.

    We wish you God’s Advent Blessings of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love,

    Bruce & Ruthi Mathewson Richmond, B.C. Canada

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks forvthese kind words the way to keep gettingbthe emails is to put your new email address into the email subscription. So just click the ‘sign me up’ button on the right of the page put in your new email address and wordpress shoukd dobthe rest 😦

  3. Maralyn benay

    Wow. Wonderful poetry. Thank you for sharing.

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