"St. John of the Cross is considered one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language. Although his complete poems add up to fewer than 2500 verses, two of them — the Spiritual Canticle and the Dark Night of the Soul — are widely considered masterpieces of Spanish poetry, both for their formal stylistic point of view and their rich symbolism and imagery. His theological works often consist of commentaries on these poems. All the works were written between 1578 and his death in 1591, meaning there is great consistency in the views presented in them...
"The Dark Night (from which the spiritual term takes its name) narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. It happens during the night, which represents the hardships and difficulties she meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. The poem of this title was likely written in 1578 or 1579. In 1584-5, John wrote a commentary on the first two stanzas and first line of the third stanza of the poem.
The Ascent of Mount Carmel is a more systematic study of the ascetical endeavour of a soul looking for perfect union, God and the mystical events happening along the way. Although it begins as a commentary on the poem "The Dark Night", it rapidly drops this format, having commented on the first two stanzas of the poem, and becomes a treatise. It was composed sometime between 1581 and 1585...."
John of the Cross - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"On a Dark Night (Song of the Soul)" is 174 words (201 in one English translation), in 40 lines, in eight stanzas, covering two pages (with plenty of white space.) It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful poems in the Spanish language. In English translations, i find it beautiful, meaningful, clear, spiritual, useful, timeless, and universal.
To explain this poem to his monks, his critics, and the Inquisition he wrote two books of prose (one unfinished), with a total of 331 pages. I am finding these books, by and large, less beautiful, less meaningful, less clear, more "religious," less useful, medieval, and Roman Catholic.
Nonetheless, Dark Night of the Soul (translated by Miribai Starr*) was worth reading, and i expect Ascent of Mount Carmel to be woththwihile as well. I will post periodically as i find gems of wisdom.
* (Her introduction to the translation was important to me when i encountered it a dozen years ago.)