Stanza ii

O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see
Him Whom I love,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

THE soul would now employ intercessors and mediators between
itself and the Beloved, praying them to make its sufferings and
afflictions known. One in love, when he cannot converse personally
with the object of his love, will do so in the best way he can.
Thus the soul employs its affections, desires, and groanings as
messengers well able to manifest the secret of its heart to the
Beloved. Accordingly, it calls upon them to do this, saying:

‘O shepherds, you who go.’

2. The shepherds are the affections, and desires, and groanings of
the soul, for they feed it with spiritual good things. A shepherd
is one who feeds: and by means of such God communicates Himself to
the soul and feeds it in the divine pastures; for without these
groans and desires He communicates but slightly with it.

‘You who go.’

You who go forth in pure love; for all desires and affections do
not reach God, but only those which proceed from sincere love.

‘Through the sheepcots up the hill.’

3. The sheepcots are the heavenly hierarchies, the angelic choirs,
by whose ministry, from choir to choir, our prayers and sighs
ascend to God; that is, to the hill, ‘for He is the highest
eminence, and because in Him, as on a hill, we observe and behold
all things, the higher and the lower sheepcots.Õ To Him our prayers
ascend, offered by angels, as I have said; so the angel said to
Tobias ‘When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead .
. . I offered thy prayer to the Lord.’ [45]

4. The shepherds also are the angels themselves, who not only
carry our petitions to God, but also bring down the graces of God
to our souls, feeding them like good shepherds, with the sweet
communications and inspirations of God, Who employs them in that
ministry. They also protect us and defend us against the wolves,
which are the evil spirits. And thus, whether we understand the
affections or the angels by the shepherds, the soul calls upon
both to be its messengers to the Beloved, and thus addresses them

‘If you shall see Him,’

That is to say:

5. If, to my great happiness you shall come into His presence, so
that He shall see you and hear your words. God, indeed, knoweth
all things, even the very thoughts of the soul, as He said unto
Moses, [46] but it is then He beholds our necessities when He
relieves them, and hears our prayers when he grants them. God does
not see all necessities and hear all petitions until the time
appointed shall have come; it is then that He is said to hear and
see, as we learn in the book of Exodus. When the children of
Israel had been afflicted for four hundred years as serfs in Egypt,
God said unto Moses, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people in
Egypt, and I have heard their cry, and . . . I am come down to
deliver them.’ [47] And yet He had seen it always. So also St.
Gabriel bade Zacharias not to fear, because God had heard his
prayer, and would grant him the son, for whom he had been praying
for many years; [48] yet God had always heard him. Every soul
ought to consider that God, though He does not at once help us
and grant our petitions, will still succour us in His own time,
for He is, as David saith, ‘a helper in due time in tribulation,’
[49] if we do not become faint-hearted and cease to pray. This is
what the soul means by saying, ‘If you shall see Him’; that is to
say, if the time is come when it shall be His good pleasure to
grant my petitions.

6. ‘Whom I love the most’: that is, whom I love more than all
creatures. This is true of the soul when nothing can make it
afraid to do and suffer all things in His service. And when the
soul can also truly say that which follows, it is a sign that it
loves Him above all things:

‘Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.’

7. Here the soul speaks of three things that distress it: namely,
languor, suffering, and death; for the soul that truly loves God
with a love in some degree perfect, suffers in three ways in His
absence, in its three powers ordinarily–the understanding, the
will, and the memory. In the understanding it languishes because
it does not see God, Who is the salvation of it, as the Psalmist
saith: ‘I am thy salvation.’ [50] In the will it suffers, because
it possesses not God, Who is its comfort and delight, as David
also saith: ‘Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy
pleasure.’ [51] In the memory it dies, because it remembers its
privation of all the blessings of the understanding, which are the
vision of God, and of the delights of the will, which are the
fruition of Him, and that it is very possible also that it may
lose Him for ever, because of the dangers and chances of this
life. In the memory, therefore, the soul labours under a sensation
like that of death, because it sees itself without the certain and
perfect fruition of God, Who is the life of the soul, as Moses
saith: ‘He is thy life.’ [52]

8. Jeremias also, in the Lamentations, speaks of these three
things, praying unto God, and saying: ‘Remember my poverty . . .
the wormwood and the gall.’ [53] Poverty relates to the
understanding, to which appertain the riches of the knowledge of
the Son of God, ‘in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
are hid.’ [54] The wormwood, which is a most bitter herb, relates
to the will, to which appertains the sweetness of the fruition of
God, deprived of which it abides in bitterness. We learn in the
Apocalypse that bitterness appertains spiritually to the will, for
the angel said to St. John: ‘Take the book and eat it up; and it
shall make thy belly bitter.’ [55] Here the belly signifies the
will. The gall relates not only to the memory, but also to all
the powers and faculties of the soul, for it signifies the death
thereof, as we learn from Moses speaking of the damned: ‘Their
wine is the gall of dragons, and the venom of asps, which is
incurable.’ [56] This signifies the loss of God, which is the
death of the soul.

9. These three things which distress the soul are grounded on the
three theological virtues–faith, charity, and hope, which relate,
in the order here assigned them, to the three faculties of the
soul–understanding, will, and memory. Observe here that the soul
does no more than represent its miseries and pain to the Beloved:
for he who loves wisely does not care to ask for that which he
wants and desires, being satisfied with hinting at his
necessities, so that the beloved one may do what shall to him seem
good. Thus the Blessed Virgin at the marriage feast of Cana asked
not directly for wine, but only said to her Beloved Son, ‘They
have no wine.’ [57] The sisters of Lazarus sent to Him, not to ask
Him to heal their brother, but only to say that he whom He loved
was sick: ‘Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.’ [58]

10. There are three reasons for this. Our Lord knows what is
expedient for us better than we do ourselves. Secondly, the
Beloved is more compassionate towards us when He sees our
necessities and our resignation. Thirdly, we are more secured
against self-love and selfseeking when we represent our necessity,
than when we ask for that which we think we need. It is in this
way that the soul represents its three necessities; as if it said:
‘Tell my Beloved, that as I languish, and as He only is my
salvation, to save me; that as I am suffering, and as He only is
my joy, to give me joy; that as I am dying, and as He only is my
life, to give me life.’