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San Juan de la Cruz, the great sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, is regarded by many as Spain’s finest poet. Passionate, ecstatic, and spiritual, his poems are a blend of exquisite lyricism and profound mystical thought. In The Poems of St. John of the Cross John Frederick Nims presents his superlative translation of the complete poems, re-creating the religious fervor of St. John’s art.

This dual-language edition makes available the original Spanish from the Codex of Sanlúcon de Barrameda with facing English translations. The work concludes with two essays—a critique of the poetry and a short piece on the Spanish text that appears alongside the translation—as well as brief notes on the individual poems.

The Poems of St. John of the Cross, translated by Ken Krabbenhoft, burn with the ecstatic fury of the Psalms and sail in the radiant peace of the poet Rumi.

St. John of the Cross was born in Spain in 1542 and was imprisoned in 1577 for his devotion to the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila. During his imprisonment, he wrote most of the poems that have earned him the reputation as the greatest poet of the Christian mystical tradition. The poems, presented here in a beautifully printed, lightly illustrated Spanish/English edition, often blur the line between romantic and religious love, in the tradition of Song of Songs. “On a Dark Night,” for example, begins with a lover whose gender is not identified, stealing out of a house, down a secret ladder, following “my only light and guide / the light that burned in my heart,” to find “the one I knew would come, / where surely no one would find us.” The poem ends with a breathtaking image of spiritual and sensual contentment: “On the ramparts / while I sat ruffling his hair / the air struck my neck / with its gentle hand, / leaving my senses suspended. / I stayed; I surrendered, / resting my face on my Beloved. / Nothing mattered. / I left my cares / forgotten among the lilies.” These are poems to read aloud to a lover, poems to read silently before God, poems that quiver before the world’s beauty and thankfully seek to describe something beyond it–a God whose undeniable intimacy with humanity always edges toward the ineffable. –Michael Joseph Gross