Vivo sin vivir en mí 

Here is a mystical religious poem, befitting a Catholic saint, but which is just as remarkable for its mastery of Baroque poetic techniques as it is for the expression of religious searching which is at the heart of this poem. The title refers to verses of a soul which is yearning to see God, and hence the poem sets out the paradox of living physically without spiritual fulfillment, and being in a state like death because death has not come to the poet. The first three lines, placed between the title and the first numbered stanza, establish this theme; the eight stanzas which follow deepen the exploration of this paradox of the journey of faith.

Coplas del alma que pena por ver a Dios.

Vivo sin vivir en mí
y de tal manera espero,
que muero porque no muero.

1. En mí yo no vivo ya,
y sin Dios vivir no puedo;
pues sin él y sin mí quedo,
este vivir ¿qué será?
Mil muertes se me hará,
pues mi misma vida espero,
muriendo porque no muero.

2. Esta vida que yo vivo
es privación de vivir;
y así, es continuo morir
hasta que viva contigo.
Oye, mi Dios, lo que digo:
que esta vida no la quiero,
que muero porque no muero.

3. Estando ausente de ti
¿qué vida puedo tener,
sino muerte padecer
la mayor que nunca vi?
Lástima tengo de mí,
pues de suerte persevero,
que muero, porque no muero.

4. El pez que del agua sale
aun de alivio no carece,
que en la muerte que padece
al fin la muerte le vale.
¿Qué muerte habrá que se iguale
a mi vivir lastimero,
pues si más vivo más muero?

5. Cuando me pienso aliviar
de verte en el Sacramento,
háceme más sentimiento
el no te poder gozar;
todo es para más penar
por no verte como quiero,
y muero porque no muero.

6. Y si me gozo, Señor,
con esperanza de verte,
en ver que puedo perderte
se me dobla mi dolor;
viviendo en tanto pavor
y esperando como espero,
muérome porque no muero.

7. ¡Sácame de aquesta muerte
mi Dios, y dame la vida;
no me tengas impedida
en este lazo tan fuerte;
mira que peno por verte,
y mi mal es tan entero,
que muero porque no muero.

8. Lloraré mi muerte ya
y lamentaré mi vida,
en tanto que detenida
por mis pecados está.
¡Oh mi Dios!, ¿cuándo será
cuando yo diga de vero:
vivo ya porque no muero?

From <http://www.mercaba.org/DOCTORES/JUAN-CRUZ/poesias.htm#5. Coplas del alma que pena por ver a Dios.>

It is almost a dizzying sequence of illustrations that the poet’s life is like death as long as he does not find the constant presence of God, in which case death would be like the coming of life. The impression is of a hall of mirrors in which no image is fixed, nothing is certain, and there is danger and despair on every side. The tour de force of the repeated imagery of paradox has a cumulative effect, each illustration building on the previous ones, with the repetition of the last line of each stanza, not always in a completely identical form, holds the poem together, bringing it back constantly to the core idea. It is only at the end of the final stanza that the end game is revealed, the poet’s ultimate wish – when will he be able to truly proclaim that he is alive because he is not dead – and because of all that has gone before we, the readers can provide the answer – when his soul is suffused with the presence of God even in the midst of life.

An exceptional poem, by a deeply religious man who is not afraid to explore faith, to wrestle with doubt and despair and make beauty from it. A saint indeed.

The Poetry Dude

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Tras de un amoroso lance

San Juan de la Cruz, was probably the most consistently mystical poet of the Caholic priest-poets of the 16th century (compared, say, to Fray Luis de Leon) and this poem provides a great example of the transcendent power of faith experienced by the poet. The experience described is relentlessly uplifting as the poet pursues his faith ever higher.

The lover’s challenge (amoroso lance) which the poet pursues throughout this poem is of course his love of God. There is little ambiguity here..

 
Tras de un amoroso lance
y no de esperança falto
volé tan alto tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

I
Para que yo alcance diesse
a aqueste lance divino
tanto bolar me convino
que de vista me perdiesse
y con todo en este trance
en el buelo quedé falto
mas el amor fue tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

II
Quanto más alto suvía
deslumbróseme la vista
y la más fuerte conquista
en escuro se hazía
mas, por ser de amor el lance
di un ciego y oscuro salto
y fuy tan alto tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

III
Cuanto más alto llegava
de este lance tan subido
tanto más baxo y rendido
y abatido me hallava
dixe: No abrá quien alcance.
Abatíme tanto tanto
que fuy tan alto tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

IV
Por una estraña manera
mil buelos pasé de un buelo
porque esperança de cielo
tanto alcança quanto espera
esperé solo este lance
y en esperar no fuy falto
pues fuy tan alto tan alto,
que le di a la caça alcance.

From <http://www.poesi.as/sjc06.htm&gt;

The poem has a four line introduction to present the theme, and then four stanzas of eight lines each to develop it. The theme is of the poet pursuing his lover’s challenge ever higher, full of hope. Hs faith and love lifts him higher and higher throughout the poem, there is a recurring series of images of flight and elevation, interrupted sometimes by doubt and darkness. But it is the power of love and faith which dominates as the poet soars higher and higher, driven on by his faith and love of God which keep him rising up to an elevated plane. The poet is totally absorbed in the heavens, in his faith and there is no place here for the mundane or the earthly.

The Poetry Dude

Un pastorcico solo está penado,

Here is an anti-pastoral poem from San Juan de la Cruz. The shepherd is not frolicking in the fields and pastures with his love, he is suffering because his love is absent and will not be with him. Or is it a metaphor for someone whose faith has lapsed? Could be either, and San Juan was probably deliberately playing up the ambiguity of this verse.

Un pastorcico solo está penado,
ajeno de placer y de contento,
y en su pastora puesto el pensamiento,
y el pecho del amor muy lastimado.

No llora por haberle amor llagado,
que no le pena verse así afligido,
aunque en el corazón está herido;
mas llora por pensar que está olvidado.

Que sólo de pensar que está olvidado
de su bella pastora, con gran pena
se deja maltratar en tierra ajena,
el pecho del amor muy lastimado.

Y dice el pastorcito: ¡Ay, desdichado
de aquel que de mi amor ha hecho ausencia
y no quiere gozar la mi presencia,
y el pecho por su amor muy lastimado!

Y a cabo de un gran rato se ha encumbrado
sobre un árbol, do abrió sus brazos bellos,
y muerto se ha quedado asido dellos,
el pecho del amor muy lastimado.

From <http://www.mercaba.org/DOCTORES/JUAN-CRUZ/poesias.htm#7. Otras canciones a lo divino de Cristo y el alma.>

The real reason for the shepherds affliction comes at the end of the second stanza – he is not lamenting being wounded by love but being forgotten. His affliction at being forgotten is so great that at the end of the poem the shepherd dies, expiring with his arms around a big tree.

Not a happy shepherd…

The Poetry Dude

Sin arrimo y con arrimo,

From the pen of San Juan de la Cruz, we have this glosa or gloss, which is a style of poem in which the poet takes two or three well-known lines of verse from another source and constructs a more elaborate poem around them. From the title we can infer that the source for this gloss was another of San Juan’s poems, but I do not know which one.

The theme, I think, is about religious faith being an essential support when all the circumstances of material lie are adverse. And this is summarised in the opening three lines (which are then repeated as the final lines of stanzas 2, 3 and 4). “Without support and with support, without light and living in darkness, I am being burned up”.

Life is hard, and lived in darkness, but the redeeming power of love and religious faith bring consolation and strength to the poet through his faith. And by writing this poem, he points the way to consolation for all. Here indeed is the compassionate side of religious faith. If only that were the most common aspect….

San Juan de la Cruz

Glosa de el mismo
Sin arrimo y con arrimo,
sin luz y ascuras viviendo
todo me voy consumiendo.

I

Mi alma está desassida
de toda cosa criada
y sobre sí levantada
y en una sabrosa vida
sólo en su Dios arrimada.

II

Por esso ya se dirá
la cosa que más estimo
que mi alma se vee ya
sin arrimo y con arrimo.

III

Y aunque tinieblas padezco
en esta vida mortal
no es tan crecido mi mal
porque si de luz carezco
tengo vida celestial
porque el amor da tal vida
quando más ciego va siendo
que tiene al alma rendida
sin luz y ascuras viviendo.

IV

Haze tal obra el amor
después que le conocí
que si ay bien o mal en mí
todo lo haze de un sabor
y al alma transforma en sí
y assí en su llama sabrosa
la qual en mí estoy sintiendo
apriessa sin quedar cosa,
todo me voy consumiendo.
From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/san-juan-de-la-cruz-glosa-de-el-mismo.htm&gt;

 

The Poetry Dude

Que bien se yo la fonte que mane y corre,

San Juan de la Cruz, using poetry here to expound on faith. In his case, of course, Catholic faith, but I think the same mechanisms and ideas must apply to all faiths, although this is not a complete description. The poem is more than a description, it is a celebration of the joys and fulfillingness of having and expressing faith. As the title suggests, the poet’s soul is singing.

 
Cantar del alma que se huelga conoscer a Dios por fe

Qué bien sé yo la fonte que mane y corre,
aunque es de noche.

Aquella eterna fonte está escondida,
que bien sé yo do tiene su manida,
aunque es de noche.

Su origen no lo sé, pues no le tiene,
mas sé que todo origen de ella tiene,
aunque es de noche.

Sé que no puede ser cosa tan bella,
y que cielos y tierra beben de ella,
aunque es de noche.

Bien sé que suelo en ella no se halla,
y que ninguno puede vadealla,
aunque es de noche.

Su claridad nunca es oscurecida,
y sé que toda luz de ella es venida,
aunque es de noche.

Sé ser tan caudalosos sus corrientes.
que infiernos, cielos riegan y las gentes,
aunque es de noche.

El corriente que nace de esta fuente
bien sé que es tan capaz y omnipotente,
aunque es de noche.

El corriente que de estas dos procede
sé que ninguna de ellas le precede,
aunque es de noche.

Aquesta eterna fonte está escondida
en este vivo pan por darnos vida,
aunque es de noche.

Aquí se está llamando a las criaturas,
y de esta agua se hartan, aunque a oscuras
porque es de noche.

Aquesta viva fuente que deseo,
en este pan de vida yo la veo,
aunque es de noche.

From <http://www.oshogulaab.com/MISTICOSCRISTIANOS/sanjuancruz6.htm&gt;

The poem is organized in a series of three line stanzas, apart from the first, which is just two lines. The first two lines set up the structure of the whole poem with the contrast between what the poet knows (the spring which gives forth running water ie God), and the darkness of night. So, in the darkness, it is only faith which can bring knowledge of the divine and the elements of divine creation.

Each of the following stanzas is an illustration of this in three lines, with the repetition of “aunque es de noche” emphasizing the message and binding together the structure of the poem. The extended metaphor is that God or divine creation is a well or spring from which emerges all that is good, beautiful, vibrant and life-giving. And the only way to experience this is through faith, since it is always night and only faith can counter darkness and ignorance.

The poet’s faith is expressed as knowledge, with the repetition of “I know” throughout the poem. For him, faith is a matter of personal discovery through introspection, not a doctrine imposed by external authority. This is the aspect of St. John of the Cross which makes his poetry very human and accessible, despite him writing at a time and in a place when and where the imposition of Catholic religious dogma caused much suffering and oppression (this was the age when the Spanish Inquisition was very active.)

The Poetry Dude

Oh llama de amor viva

Today’s poem is from the mystical Catholic tradition, by the great sixteenth century priest-poet, San Juan de la Cruz (St. John of the Cross). It is perplexing to me how the Church could at the same time produce works of such beauty and transcendence, while at the same time in history the Catholic Spanish Inquisition was terrorizing the population in its attempts to impose religious orthodoxy according to Catholic dogma. Fortunately this poem reveals the positive, life-enhancing aspect of the religious tradition, rather than its dark, oppressive side.
 
Llama de amor viva
de San Juan de la Cruz

¡Oh llama de amor viva
que tiernamente hieres
de mi alma en el más profundo centro!
Pues ya no eres esquiva
acaba ya si quieres,
¡rompe la tela de este dulce encuentro!

¡Oh cauterio süave!
¡Oh regalada llaga!
¡Oh mano blanda! ¡Oh toque delicado
que a vida eterna sabe
y toda deuda paga!
Matando, muerte en vida has trocado.

¡Oh lámparas de fuego
en cuyos resplandores
las profundas cavernas del sentido,
que estaba oscuro y ciego,
con estraños primores
color y luz dan junto a su querido!

¡Cuán manso y amoroso
recuerdas en mi seno
donde secretamente solo moras,
y en tu aspirar sabroso
de bien y gloria lleno,
cuán delicadamente me enamoras!

From <http://www.echapbook.com/poems/veltfort/llama.html&gt;

The language, structure and sentiments of the poem have much in common with love poetry of the period, however here it is about the relationship of a man with his god. The burning flame of divine love scars the very centre of his soul, just as a flesh and blood woman might do.

Each stanza is set out as an exclamation, as the poet is transported with wonder and awe at the impact of divine love and its capacity for giving everlasting life, for bringing light into the dark places of the mind and inspiring love.

We know this is about religious experience rather than human love because of the identity of the poet, but also the references to eternal life and resurrection. The poem describes a gentle, loving, compassionate god. It is easy to imagine the saint in his sparse, monastic cell, experiencing flights of ecstasy as described in this poem.

The Poetry Dude

En una noche oscura

Today we have a poem by St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), the Spanish priest from the mid-16th century who became a saint. He was a religious mystic, seeking God through reflection and introspection and he produced some of the finest poetry in a century when there were many fine poets writing in Spanish. This poem is very clever as you can read it both as a metaphor for the religious experience or as a description of an illicit encounter between two lovers. The rhythms and repetitions create a momentum which carries the reader along, while the opening stanzas also create a suspense which grabs the reader’s attention. I recommend reading this poem silently and aloud to enjoy the words and the rhythms which make up this beautiful poem.

 
En una noche oscura
con ansias en amores inflamada
¡oh dichosa ventura!
salí sin ser notada
estando ya mi casa sosegada,

a oscuras y segura
por la secreta escala disfrazada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!
a oscuras y en celada
estando ya mi casa sosegada.

En la noche dichosa
en secreto que nadie me veía
ni yo miraba cosa
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.

Aquesta me guiaba
más cierto que la luz del mediodía
adonde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía
en sitio donde nadie aparecía.

¡Oh noche, que guiaste!
¡Oh noche amable más que la alborada!
¡Oh noche que juntaste
amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!

En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba
allí quedó dormido
y yo le regalaba
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.

El aire de la almena
cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía
con su mano serena
y en mi cuello hería
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.

Quedéme y olvidéme
el rostro recliné sobre el amado;
cesó todo, y dejéme
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.

 
From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/cruz1.htm&gt;

 
The sense of suspense is established immediately as the first stanza describes someone creeping out of their house in the dead of night. This is carried on in the next two stanzas where suspense is joined by growing excitement indicated by the adjectives and exclamations. This is an adventure of illicit love as the protagonist finally meets the loved one and they embrace under the stars with the wind blowing through their hair, and all cares are forgotten.

But the whole description is also a metaphor for the search for transcendental religious experience and finding inner peace through Christ, made understandable to readers through the analogy with the rapture of physical love.

In either sense, this is a beautiful poem, and I am very pleased to share it.

 
The Poetry Dude