Hoping against hope

My post for #Advent 12 on the Parkology blog on the theme of hope.

Today is the feast day of St John of the Cross, Spanish mystic and poet. He is best known for “The Dark Night of the Soul”, which describes the difficulties met by the soul in seeking union with God. Here’s an English version of his poem “Tras de un amoroso lance”, which beautifully captures a number of types of hope: the initial optimism leading to seeming success; the ‘nearly there’ hope; the ‘shot in the dark’ hope; the hope in the face of despair; and the willed hope – hope is achieved by hoping.

Full of hope I climbed the day
while hunting the game of love,
and soared so high, high above
that I at last caught my prey.

In order to seize the game
– the divine love in the sky –
I had to fly so high, high
I floated unseen and became
lost in that dangerous day;
and so my flight fell short of
height — yet so high was my love
that I at last caught my prey.

Dazzled and stunned by light
as I rose nearer the sun,
my greatest conquest was won
in the very black of night.
Yet since love opened my way
I leapt dark, blindly above
and was so high, near my love,
that at last I caught my prey.

In this most exalted quest
the higher I began to soar
the lower I felt — more sore
and broken and depressed.
I said: None can seize the prey!
and groveled so low, so low
that high, higher did I go,
and at last I caught my prey.

By strange reckoning I saw
a thousand flights in one flight;
for hope of heavenly light
is achieved by hoping now.
I hoped only for this way
and was right to wait for love,
and climbed so high, high above
that at last I caught my prey.

St John of the Cross
English version by Willis Barnstone

Share