Stanza viii

But how thou perseverest, O life!
Not living where thou livest;
The arrows bring death
Which thou receivest
From thy conceptions of the Beloved.

THE soul, perceiving itself to be dying of love, as it has just
said, and yet not dying so as to have the free enjoyment of its
love, complains of the continuance of its bodily life, by which
the spiritual life is delayed. Here the soul addresses itself to
the life it is living upon earth, magnifying the sorrows of it.
The meaning of the stanza therefore is as follows: ‘O life of my
soul, how canst thou persevere in this life of the flesh, seeing
that it is thy death and the privation of the true spiritual life
in God, in Whom thou livest in substance, love, and desire, more
truly than in the body? And if this were not reason enough to
depart, and free thyself from the body of this death, so as to
live and enjoy the life of God, how canst thou still remain in a
body so frail? Besides, these wounds of love made by the Beloved
in the revelation of His majesty are by themselves alone
sufficient to put an end to thy life, for they are very deep; and
thus all thy feelings towards Him, and all thou knowest of Him,
are so many touches and wounds of love that kill,

‘But how thou perseverest, O life!
Not living where thou livest.’

2. We must keep in mind, for the better understanding of this,
that the soul lives there where it loves, rather than in the body
which it animates. The soul does not live by the body, but, on the
contrary, gives it life, and lives by love in that which it loves.
For beside this life of love which it lives in God Who loves it,
the soul has its radical and natural life in God, like all created
things, according to the saying of St. Paul: ‘In Him we live, and
move, and are;’ [82] that is, our life, motion, and being is in
God. St. John also says that all that was made was life in God:
‘That which was made, in Him was life.’ [83]

3. When the soul sees that its natural life is in God through the
being He has given it, and its spiritual life also because of the
love it bears Him, it breaks forth into lamentations, complaining
that so frail a life in a mortal body should have the power to
hinder it from the fruition of the true, real, and delicious life,
which it lives in God by nature and by love. Earnestly, therefore,
does the soul insist upon this: it tells us that it suffers
between two contradictions–its natural life in the body, and its
spiritual life in God; contrary the one to the other, because of
their mutual repugnance. The soul living this double life is of
necessity in great pain; for the painful life hinders the
delicious, so that the natural life is as death, seeing that it
deprives the soul of its spiritual life, wherein is its whole
being and life by nature, and all its operations and feelings by
love. The soul, therefore, to depict more vividly the hardships
of this fragile life, says:

‘The arrows bring death
which thou receivest.’

4. That is to say: ‘Besides, how canst thou continue in the
body, seeing that the touches of love–these are the arrows–with
which the Beloved pierces thy heart, are alone sufficient to
deprive thee of life?’ These touches of love make the soul and
heart so fruitful of the knowledge and love of God, that they may
well be called conceptions of God, as in the words that follow:

‘From thy conceptions of the Beloved.’

5. That is, of the majesty, beauty, wisdom, grace, and power,
which thou knowest to be His.


AS the hart wounded with a poisoned arrow cannot be easy and at
rest, but seeks relief on all sides, plunging into the waters here
and again there, whilst the poison spreads notwithstanding all
attempts at relief, till it reaches the heart, and occasions
death; so the soul, pierced by the arrow of love, never ceases
from seeking to alleviate its pains. Not only does it not
succeed, but its pains increase, let it think, and say, and do
what it may; and knowing this, and that there is no other remedy
but the resignation of itself into the hands of Him Who wounded
it, that He may relieve it, and effectually slay it through the
violence of its love; it turns towards the Bridegroom, Who is the
cause of all, and says:

St John of The Cross

Christian Mystics