Stanza xx and xxi


Light-winged birds,
Lions, fawns, bounding does,
Mountains, valleys, strands,
Waters, winds, heat,
And the terrors that keep watch by night;

By the soft lyres
And the siren strains, I adjure you,
Let your fury cease,
And touch not the wall,
That the bride may sleep in greater security.

HERE the Son of God, the Bridegroom, leads the bride into the
enjoyment of peace and tranquillity in the conformity of her lower
to her higher nature, purging away all her imperfections,
subjecting the natural powers of the soul to reason, and
mortifying all her desires, as it is expressed in these two
stanzas, the meaning of which is as follows. In the first place
the Bridegroom adjures and commands all vain distractions of the
fancy and imagination from henceforth to cease, and controls the
irascible and concupiscible faculties which were hitherto the
sources of so much affliction. He brings, so far as it is possible
in this life, the three powers of memory, understanding, and will
to the perfection of their objects, and then adjures and commands
the four passions of the soul, joy, hope, grief, and fear, to be
still, and bids them from henceforth be moderate and calm.

2. All these passions and faculties are comprehended under the
expressions employed in the first stanza, the operations of which,
full of trouble, the Bridegroom subdues by that great sweetness,
joy, and courage which the bride enjoys in the spiritual surrender
of Himself to her which God makes at this time; under the
influence of which, because God transforms the soul effectually in
Himself, all the faculties, desires, and movements of the soul
lose their natural imperfection and become divine.

‘Light-winged birds.’

3. These are the distractions of the imagination, light and rapid
in their flight from one subject to another. When the will is
tranquilly enjoying the sweet converse of the Beloved, these
distractions produce weariness, and in their swift flight quench
its joy. The Bridegroom adjures them by the soft lyres. That is,
now that the sweetness of the soul is so abundant and so
continuous that they cannot interfere with it, as they did before
when it had not reached this state, He adjures them, and bids them
cease from their disquieting violence. The same explanation is to
be given of the rest of the stanza.

‘Lions, fawns, bounding does.’

4. By the lions is meant the raging violence of the irascible
faculty, which in its acts is bold and daring as a lion. The
‘fawns and bounding does’ are the concupiscible faculty–that is,
the power of desire, the qualities of which are two, timidity and
rashness. Timidity betrays itself when things do not turn out
according to our wishes, for then the mind retires within itself
discouraged, and in this respect the soul resembles the fawns. For
as fawns have the concupiscible faculty stronger than many other
animals, so are they more retiring and more timid. Rashness
betrays itself when we have our own way, for the mind is then
neither retiring nor timid, but desires boldly, and gratifies all
its inclinations. This quality of rashness is compared to the
does, who so eagerly seek what they desire that they not only run,
but even leap after it; hence they are described as bounding does.

5. Thus the Bridegroom, in adjuring the lions, restrains the
violence and controls the fury of rage; in adjuring the fawns, He
strengthens the concupiscible faculty against timidity and
irresolution; and in adjuring the does He satisfies and subdues
the desires which were restless before, leaping, like deer, from
one object to another, to satisfy that concupiscence which is now
satisfied by the soft lyres, the sweetness of which it enjoys, and
by the siren strains, in the delight of which it revels.

6. But the Bridegroom does not adjure anger and concupiscence
themselves, because these passions never cease from the soul–but
their vexations and disorderly acts, signified by the ‘lions,
fawns, and bounding does,’ for it is necessary that these
disorderly acts should cease in this state.

‘Mountains, valleys, strands.’

7. These are the vicious and disorderly actions of the three
faculties of the soul–memory, understanding, and will. These
actions are disorderly and vicious when they are in extremes, or,
if not in extreme, tending to one extreme or other. Thus the
mountains signify those actions which are vicious in excess,
mountains being high; the valleys, being low, signify those which
are vicious in the extreme of defect. Strands, which are neither
high nor low, but, inasmuch as they are not perfectly level, tend
to one extreme or other, signify those acts of the three powers of
the soul which depart slightly in either direction from the true
mean and equality of justice. These actions, though not disorderly
in the extreme, as they would be if they amounted to mortal sin,
are nevertheless disorderly in part, tending towards venial sin or
imperfection, however slight that tendency may be, in the
understanding, memory, and will. He adjures also all these actions
which depart from the true mean, and bids them cease before the
soft lyres and the siren strains, which so effectually charm the
powers of the soul as to occupy them completely in their true and
proper functions, so that they avoid not only all extremes, but
also the slightest tendency to them.

‘Waters, winds, heat, and the terrors
that keep watch by night.’

8. These are the affections of the four passions, grief, hope,
joy, and fear. The waters are the affections of grief which
afflict the soul, for they rush into it like water. ‘Save me, O
God,’ saith the Psalmist, ‘for the waters are come in even unto my
soul.’ [176] The winds are the affections of hope, for they rush
forth like wind, desiring what which is not present but hoped for,
as the Psalmist saith: ‘I opened my mouth and drew breath: because
I longed for Thy commandments.’ [177] That is, ‘I opened the mouth
of my hope, and drew in the wind of desire, because I hoped and
longed for Thy commandments.’ Heat is the affections of joy which,
like fire, inflame the heart, as it is written: ‘My heart waxed
hot within me; and in my meditation a fire shall burn’; [178] that
is, ‘while I meditate I shall have joy.’

9. The ‘terrors that keep watch by night’ are the affections of
fear, which in spiritual persons who have not attained to the
state of spiritual marriage are usually exceedingly strong. They
come sometimes from God when He is going to bestow certain great
graces upon souls, as I said before; [179] He is wont then to fill
the mind with dread, to make the flesh tremble and the senses
numb, because nature is not made strong and perfect and prepared
for these graces. They come also at times from the evil spirit,
who, out of envy and malignity, when he sees a soul sweetly
recollected in God, labours to disturb its tranquillity by
exciting horror and dread, in order to destroy so great a
blessing, and sometimes utters his threats, as it were in the
interior of the soul. But when he finds that he cannot penetrate
within the soul, because it is so recollected, and so united with
God, he strives at least in the province of sense to produce
exterior distractions and inconstancy, sensible pains and horrors,
if perchance he may in this way disturb the soul in the bridal

10. These are called terrors of the night, because they are the
work of evil spirits, and because Satan labours, by the help
thereof, to involve the soul in darkness, and to obscure the
divine light wherein it rejoiceth. These terrors are called
watchers, because they awaken the soul and rouse it from its sweet
interior slumber, and also because Satan, their author, is ever on
the watch to produce them. These terrors strike the soul of
persons who are already spiritual, passively, and come either from
God or the evil spirit. I do not refer to temporal or natural
terrors, because spiritual men are not subject to these, as they
are to those of which I am speaking.

11. The Beloved adjures the affections of these four passions,
compels them to cease and to be at rest, because He supplies the
bride now with force, and courage, and satisfaction, by the soft
lyres of His sweetness and the siren strains of His delight, so
that not only they shall not domineer over the soul, but shall not
occasion it any distaste whatever. Such is the grandeur and
stability of the soul in this state, that, although formerly the
waters of grief overwhelmed it, because of its own or other men’s
sins–which is what spiritual persons most feel–the consideration
of them now excites neither pain nor annoyance; even the sensible
feeling of compassion exists not now, though the effects of it
continue in perfection. The weaknesses of its virtues are no
longer in the soul, for they are now constant, strong, and
perfect. As the angels perfectly appreciate all sorrowful things
without the sense of pain, and perform acts of mercy without the
sentiment of pity, so the soul in this transformation of love.
God, however, dispenses sometimes, on certain occasions, with the
soul in this matter, allowing it to feel and suffer, that it may
become more fervent in love, and grow in merit, or for some other
reasons, as He dispensed with His Virgin Mother, St. Paul, and
others. This, however, is not the ordinary condition of this

12. Neither do the desires of hope afflict the soul now, because,
satisfied in its union with God, so far as it is possible in this
life, it has nothing of this world to hope for, and nothing
spiritual to desire, seeing that it feels itself to be full of the
riches of God, though it may grow in charity, and thus, whether
living or dying, it is conformed to the will of God, saying with
the sense and spirit, ‘Thy will be done,’ free from the violence
of inclination and desires; and accordingly even its longing for
the beatific vision is without pain.

13. The affections of joy, also, which were wont to move the soul
with more or less vehemence, are not sensibly diminished; neither
does their abundance occasion any surprise. The joy of the soul is
now so abundant that it is like the sea, which is not diminished
by the rivers that flow out of it, nor increased by those that
empty themselves into it; for the soul is now that fountain of
which our Lord said that it is ‘springing up into life
everlasting.’ [180]

14. I have said that the soul receives nothing new or unusual in
this state of transformation; it seems to lose all accidental joy,
which is not withheld even from the glorified. That is, accidental
joys and sweetness are indeed no strangers to this soul; yea,
rather, those which it ordinarily has cannot be numbered; yet, for
all this, as to the substantial communication of the spirit, there
is no increase of joy, for that which may occur anew the soul
possesses already, and thus what the soul has already within
itself is greater than anything that comes anew. Hence, then,
whenever any subject of joy and gladness, whether exterior or
spiritually interior, presents itself to the soul, the soul
betakes itself forthwith to rejoicing in the riches it possesses
already within itself, and the joy it has in them is far greater
than any which these new accessions minister, because, in a
certain sense, God is become its possession, Who, though He
delights in all things, yet in nothing so much as in Himself,
seeing that He has all good eminently in Himself. Thus all
accessions of joy serve to remind the soul that its real joy is in
its interior possessions, rather than in these accidental causes,
because, as I have said, the former are greater than the latter.

15. It is very natural for the soul, even when a particular matter
gives it pleasure, that, possessing another of greater worth and
gladness, it should remember it at once and take its pleasure in
it. The accidental character of these spiritual accessions, and
the new impressions they make on the soul, may be said to be as
nothing in comparison with that substantial source which it has
within itself: for the soul which has attained to the perfect
transformation, and is full-grown, grows no more in this state by
means of these spiritual accessions, as those souls do who have
not yet advanced so far. It is a marvellous thing that the soul,
while it receives no accessions of delight, should still seem to
do so and also to have been in possession of them. The reason is
that it is always tasting them anew, because they are ever
renewed; and thus it seems to be continually the recipient of new
accessions, while it has no need of them whatever.

16. But if we speak of that light of glory which in this, the
soul’s embrace, God sometimes produces within it, and which is a
certain spiritual communion wherein He causes it to behold and
enjoy at the same time the abyss of delight and riches which He
has laid up within it, there is no language to express any degree
of it. As the sun when it shines upon the sea illumines its great
depths, and reveals the pearls, and gold, and precious stones
therein, so the divine sun of the Bridegroom, turning towards the
bride, reveals in a way the riches of her soul, so that even the
angels behold her with amazement and say: ‘Who is she that cometh
forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
terrible as the army of a camp set in array.’ [181] This
illumination adds nothing to the grandeur of the soul,
notwithstanding its greatness, because it merely reveals that
which the soul already possessed in order that it might rejoice in

17. Finally, the terrors that keep watch by night do not come nigh
unto her, because of her pureness, courage, and confident trust in
God; the evil spirits cannot shroud her in darkness, nor alarm her
with terrors, nor disturb her with their violent assaults. Thus
nothing can approach her, nothing can molest her, for she has
escaped from all created things and entered in to God, to the
fruition of perfect peace, sweetness, and delight, so far as that
is possible in this life. It is to this state that the words of
Solomon are applicable: ‘A secure mind is as it were a continual
feast.’ [182] As in a feast we have the savour of all meat, and
the sweetness of all music, so in this feast, which the bride
keeps in the bosom of her Beloved, the soul rejoices in all
delight, and has the taste of all sweetness. All that I have said,
and all that may be said, on this subject, will always fall short
of that which passeth in the soul which has attained to this
blessed state. For when it shall have attained to the peace of
God, ‘which,’ in the words of the Apostle, ‘surpasseth all
understanding,’ [183] no description of its state is possible.

‘By the soft lyres and the siren strains I adjure you.’

18. The soft lyres are the sweetness which the Bridegroom
communicates to the soul in this state, and by which He makes all
its troubles to cease. As the music of lyres fills the soul with
sweetness and delight, carries it rapturously out of itself, so
that it forgets all its weariness and grief, so in like manner
this sweetness so absorbs the soul that nothing painful can reach
it. The Bridegroom says, in substance: ‘By that sweetness which I
give thee, let all thy bitterness cease.’ The siren strains are
the ordinary joys of the soul. These are called siren strains
because, as it is said, the music of the sirens is so sweet and
delicious that he who hears it is so rapt and so carried out of
himself that he forgets everything. In the same way the soul is so
absorbed in, and refreshed by, the delight of this union that it
becomes, as it were, charmed against all the vexations and
troubles that may assail it; it is to these the next words of the
stanza refer:

‘Let your fury cease.’

19. This is the troubles and anxieties which flow from unruly acts
and affections. As anger is a certain violence which disturbs
peace, overlapping its bounds, so also all these affections in
their motions transgress the bounds of the peace and tranquillity
of the soul, disturbing it whenever they touch it. Hence the
Bridegroom says:

‘And touch not the wall.’

20. The wall is the territory of peace and the fortress of virtue
and perfections, which are the defences and protection of the
soul. The soul is the garden wherein the Beloved feeds among the
flowers, defended and guarded for Him alone. Hence it is called in
the Canticle ‘a garden enclosed.’ [184] The Bridegroom bids all
disorderly emotions not to touch the territory and wall of His

21. ‘That the bride may sleep in greater security.’ That is, that
she is delighting herself with more sweetness in the tranquillity
and sweetness she has in the Beloved. That is to say, that now no
door is shut against the soul, and that it is in its power to
abandon itself whenever it wills to this sweet sleep of love,
according to the words of the Bridegroom in the Canticle, ‘I
adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and the harts of
the fields, that you raise not up nor make the beloved to awake
till herself will.’ [185]


THE Bridegroom was so anxious to rescue His bride from the power
of the flesh and the devil and to set her free, that, having done
so, He rejoices over her like the good shepherd who, having found
the sheep that was lost, laid it upon his shoulders rejoicing;
like the woman who, having found the money she had lost, after
lighting a candle and sweeping the house, called ‘together her
friends and neighbours, saying, Rejoice with me.’ [186] So this
loving Shepherd and Bridegroom of souls shows a marvellous joy and
delight when He beholds a soul gained to perfection lying on His
shoulders, and by His hands held fast in the longed-for embrace
and union. He is not alone in His joy, for He makes the angels and
the souls of the blessed partakers of His glory, saying, as in the
Canticle, ‘Go forth, ye daughters of Sion, and see king Solomon in
the diadem wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his
betrothal, and in the day of the joy of his heart.’ [187] He calls
the soul His crown, His bride, and the joy of His heart: He
carries it in His arms, and as a bridegroom leads it into His
bridal chamber, as we shall see in the following stanza: