Stanza xviii

O nymphs of Judea!
While amid the flowers and the rose-trees
The amber sends forth its perfume,
Tarry in the suburbs,
And touch not our thresholds.

IT is the bride that speaks; for seeing herself, as to the higher
part of the soul, adorned with the rich endowments of her Beloved,
and seeing Him delighting in her, she desires to preserve herself
in security, and in the continued fruition of them. Seeing also
that hindrances will arise, as in fact they do, from the sensual
part of the soul, which will disturb so great a good, she bids the
operations and motions of the soul’s lower nature to cease, in the
senses and faculties of it, and sensuality not to overstep its
boundaries to trouble and disquiet the higher and spiritual
portion of the soul: not to hinder even for a moment the sweetness
she enjoys. The motions of the lower part, and their powers, if
they show themselves during the enjoyment of the spirit, are so
much more troublesome and disturbing, the more active they are.

‘O nymphs of Judea.’

2. The lower, that is the sensual part of the soul, is called
Judea. It is called Judea because it is weak, and carnal, and
blind, like the Jewish people. All the imaginations, fancies,
motions, and inclinations of the lower part of the soul are called
nymphs, for as nymphs with their beauty and attractions entice men
to love them, so the operations and motions of sensuality softly
and earnestly strive to entice the will from the rational part, in
order to withdraw it from that which is interior, and to fix it on
that which is exterior, to which they are prone themselves. They
also strive to influence the understanding to join with them in
their low views, and to bring down reason to the level of sense by
the attractions of the latter. The soul, therefore, says in
effect: ‘O sensual operations and motions.’

‘While amid the flowers and the rose-trees.’

3. The flowers, as I have said, are the virtues of the soul, and
the rose-trees are its powers, memory, understanding, and will,
which produce and nurture the flowers of divine conceptions, acts
of love and the virtues, while the amber sends forth its perfume
in the virtues and powers of the soul.

‘The amber sends forth its perfume.’

4. The amber is the divine spirit of the Bridegroom Who dwells in
the soul. To send forth the perfume among the flowers and the
rose-trees, is to diffuse and communicate Himself most sweetly in
the powers and virtues of the soul, thereby filling it with the
perfume of divine sweetness. Meanwhile, then, when the Divine
Spirit is filling my soul with spiritual sweetness,

‘Tarry in the suburbs.’

5. In the suburbs of Judea, which is the inferior or sensual part
of the soul. The suburbs are the interior senses, namely, memory,
fancy, and imagination, where forms and images of things collect,
by the help of which sensuality stirs up concupiscence and
desires. These forms are the nymphs, and while they are quiet and
tranquil the desires are also asleep. They enter into the suburbs
of the interior senses by the gates of the outward senses, of
sight, hearing, smell, etc. We can thus give the name of suburbs
to all the powers and interior or exterior senses of the sensual
part of the soul, because they are outside the walls of the city.

6. That part of the soul which may be called the city is that
which is most interior, the rational part, which is capable of
converse with God, the operations of which are contrary to those
of sensuality. But there is a natural intercourse between those
who dwell in the suburbs of the sensual part–that is, the nymphs–
and those who dwell in the higher part, which is the city itself;
and, therefore, what takes place in the lower part is ordinarily
felt in the higher, and consequently compels attention to itself
and disturbs the spiritual operation which is conversant with God.
Hence the soul bids the nymphs tarry in the suburbs–that is, to
remain at rest in the exterior and interior senses of the sensual

‘And touch not our thresholds.’

7. Let not even your first movements touch the higher part, for
the first movements of the soul are the entrance and thresholds of
it. When the first movements have passed into the reason, they
have crossed the threshold, but when they remain as first
movements only they are then said merely to touch the threshold,
or to cry at the gate, which is the case when reason and sense
contend over an unreasonable act. The soul here not only bids
these not to touch it, but also charges all considerations
whatever which do not minister to its repose and the good it
enjoys to keep far away.


THE soul in this state is become so great an enemy of the lower
part, and its operations, that it would have God communicate
nothing to it when He communicates with the higher. If He will
communicate with the lower, it must be in a slight degree, or the
soul, because of its natural weakness, will be unable to endure it
without fainting, and consequently the spirit cannot rejoice in
peace, because it is then troubled. ‘For,’ as the wise man says,
‘the body that is corrupted burdeneth the soul.’ [171] And as the
soul longs for the highest and noblest converse with God, which is
impossible in the company of the sensual part, it begs of God to
deal with it without the intervention of the senses. That sublime
vision of St. Paul in the third heaven, wherein, he says, he saw
God, but yet knew not whether he was in the body or out of the
body, must have been, be it what it may, independent of the body:
for if the body had any share in it, he must have known it, and
the vision could not have been what it was, seeing that he ‘heard
secret words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.’ [172] The
soul, therefore, knowing well that graces so great cannot be
received in a vessel so mean, and longing to receive them out of
the body,–or at least without it, addresses the Bridegroom in the
words that follow: