Explanation of the Stanzas

ARGUMENT

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.

EXPLANATION OF THE STANZAS

NOTE

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,Ðthe 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:

STANZA I

THE BRIDE

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.Õ 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.