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Dark Night of the Soul

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Title: Dark Night of the Soul  
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Subject: Christian mysticism, Nigredo, Kenosis, John of the Cross, Transpersonal ecology
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Dark Night of the Soul

Dark Night of the Soul (Spanish: La noche oscura del alma) is the title of a poem written by 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross, and of a treatise he wrote later, commenting on the poem.


  • Poem and treatise by Saint John of the Cross 1
  • Spiritual term in the Roman Catholic tradition 2
  • In culture 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Poem and treatise by Saint John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross' poem narrates the journey of the soul from its bodily home to its union with God. The journey is called "The Dark Night", because darkness represents the hardships and difficulties the soul meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. The poem is divided into two books that reflect the two phases of the dark night. The first is a purification of the senses. The second and more intense of the two stages is that of the purification of the spirit, which is the less common of the two. Dark Night of the Soul further describes the ten steps on the ladder of mystical love, previously described by Saint Thomas Aquinas and in part by Aristotle. The text was written in 1578 or 1579, while John of the Cross was imprisoned by his Carmelite brothers, who opposed his reformations to the Order.

The treatise, written in 1584-85, is a theological commentary on the poem, explaining its meaning by stanza.

Spiritual term in the Roman Catholic tradition

The term "dark night (of the soul)" is used in Roman Catholicism for a spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God, like that described by Saint John of the Cross.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century French Carmelite, wrote of her own experience. Centering on doubts about the afterlife, she reportedly told her fellow nuns, "If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into."[1]

While this crisis is usually temporary in nature, it may last for extended periods. The "dark night" of Saint Paul of the Cross in the 18th century lasted 45 years, from which he ultimately recovered. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, according to letters released in 2007, "may be the most extensive such case on record", lasting from 1948 almost up until her death in 1997, with only brief interludes of relief in between.[2] Franciscan Friar Father Benedict Groeschel, a friend of Mother Teresa for a large part of her life, claims that "the darkness left" towards the end of her life.[3]

In culture

Ernest Dowson alludes to the 'obscure night of the soul' in his absinthe poem, Absinthia Taetra.

In The Crack-Up, F. Scott Fitzgerald penned his famous line, "In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning".

As a comment on the shallowness of modern spirituality, author and humorist Douglas Adams parodied the phrase with the title of his 1988 science fiction novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.

English electronic band Depeche Mode make a clear reference in their song "I Feel Loved", the second single released from the album Exciter, in which Dave Gahan sings, "It's the dark night of my soul and temptation's taking hold, but through the pain and the suffering, through the heartache and trembling I feel loved...".

Alternative rock band Sparklehorse, along with producer Danger Mouse and director and visual artist David Lynch, collaborated with a number of other artists — including Vic Chesnutt, Jason Lytle, and Wayne Coyne — on an audio-visual project entitled "Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Present: Dark Night of the Soul."

The phrase has also been used as a song title by several other bands and music artists, including Steve Bell, The Get Up Kids, Ulver, Mayhem, and Shai Linne in The Solus Christus Project.

Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt set the poem to music on her album The Mask and Mirror.

Composer Ola Gjeilo has written a choral setting with piano and string quartet, fourteen minutes long, influenced by the phrase.

Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison writes about the "dark night of the soul" in two of his songs, "Tore Down a la Rimbaud" on A Sense of Wonder, and "Give Me My Rapture" on Poetic Champions Compose.

In his novel, "Insomnia," Stephen King makes a reference to the F. Scott Fitzgerald usage when his protagonist first begins experiencing the signs of insomnia following the death of his [the character's] wife.

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ David van Biema (23 August 2007). "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith". Time Magazine. 
  3. ^ Groeschel, Father Benedict (9 September 2007). "The Mother Teresa I Knew" (RM). EWTN Sunday Night Live. 
  • MysticismThe chapter titled "The Dark Night of the Soul" from Evelyn Underhill's at
  • Underhill, Evelyn. (re-issue 1999). Mysticism Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-196-5.

Further reading

  • May, Gerald G. (2004). The Dark Night of the Soul. A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth. New York City:  
  • McKee, Kaye P. (2006). When God Walks Away. A Companion to the Dark Night of the Soul. New York City:  

External links

  • Dark Night of the Soul verse translation of the poem.
  • Dark Night of the SoulText of from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  • Dark Night of the SoulOriginal and Translation of From The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross
  • Dark Night of the SoulOnline version of
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