Verses of the Soul that Aches to See God

This poem was written in Spanish by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), a Catholic mystic. It was translated into English by Alan Steinle. This poem may have been written while St. John was in prison, for it seems to speak of weariness with this world and the hope to see God in the next world.

Coplas del alma que pena por ver a DiosVerses of the Soul that Aches to See God
Vivo sin vivir en míI live but do not live in me;
y de tal manera espero I have some hope—I can’t deny—
que muero porque no muero.To die because I do not die.
II
En mí yo no vivo yaMy life no longer comes from me;
y sin Dios vivir no puedoWithout You, God, my life is gone;
pues sin él y sin mí quedoWithout You, I cannot go on;
éste vivir qué será?This life of death, what can it be?
Mil muertes se me haráA thousand deaths it seems to me;
pues mi misma vida esperoI’m waiting for my life and I,
muriendo porque no muero.I die because I do not die.
IIII
Esta vida que yo vivoThis life I’ve lived has hitherto
es privación de vivirDeprived me of my living breath;
y así es contino morirIt is a constant life of death;
hasta que viva contigo.Until I live my life with You,
Oye mi Dios lo que digoOh God, I’ll say it all anew:
que esta vida no la quieroThis life of death I will decry;
que muero porque no muero.I die because I do not die.
IIIIII
Estando ausente de tiI still am absent from Your side;
qué vida puedo tenerWhat kind of life can I possess
sino muerte padecerWithout a death of great distress
la mayor que nunca vi?And pain that I can scarce abide?
Lástima tengo de míWith life, I feel dissatisfied;
pues de suerte perseveroI still survive by luck but I,
que muero porque no muero.I die because I do not die.
IVIV
El pez que del agua saleThe fish that’s taken from the sea
aun de alivio no careceIs not, at last, without relief;
que en la muerte que padeceThe death he suffers in his grief
al fin la muerte le vale.Is not without utility;
Qué muerte abra que se igualeWhat death could prove as bad to me
a mi vivir lastimeroAs this, my wretched life? I sigh:
pues si más vivo más muero?The more I live, the more I die.
VV
Cuando me pienso aliviarWhen I begin to feel all right
de verte en el SacramentoFrom seeing, in the wine and bread,
hazme más sentimientoYour presence, sorrow fills my head
el no te poder gozarSince I’m not able to delight
todo es para más penarIn You, for joy descends its height;
por no verte como quieroI cannot see You, though I try;
y muero porque no muero.I die because I do not die.
VIVI
Y si me gozo SeñorAnd if I start to gladden, Lord,
con esperanza de verteWith my strong hope to see Your face,
en ver que puedo perderteThe thought of losing Your embrace
se me dobla mi dolorBrings double sorrow as reward;
viviendo en tanto pavorI live in dread and can’t afford
y esperando como esperoThe hope that I can’t justify;
muérame porque no muero.I die because I do not die.
VIIVII
Sácame de esta muerteRemove from me this deathly woe,
mi Dios y dame la vidaMy God, and give me life again;
no me tengas impedidaDon’t keep me in this mortal skin,
en este lazo tan fuerteThis snare that binds me here below;
mira que peno por verte,I cannot see You now, and so
y mi mal es tan enteroI feel such pain, and hope that I
que muero porque no muero.Can die because I do not die.
VIIIVIII
Lloraré mi muerte yaI mourn my death, and also now
y lamentaré mi vidaI grieve this life that is prolonged
en tanto que detenidaFor all my sins and those I’ve wronged;
por mis pecados está.Oh, God! Can You assure me now?
¡O mi Dios!, cuándo seráPlease tell me when I will avow
cuando yo diga de veroWith all my faith and won’t belie:
vivo ya porque no muero?I live because I do not die.

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