The Fountain

by John of the Cross

English version by Willis Barnstone
Original Language Spanish

How well I know that flowing spring
     in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen.
How well I know where she has been
     in black of night.

I do not know her origin.
None. Yet in her all things begin
     in black of night.

I know that nothing is so fair
and earth and firmament drink there
     in black of night.

I know that none can wade inside
to find her bright bottomless tide
     in black of night.

Her shining never has a blur;
I know that all light comes from her
     in black of night.

I know her streams converge and swell
and nourish people, skies and hell
     in black of night.

The stream whose birth is in this source
I know has a gigantic force
     in black of night.

The stream from but these two proceeds
yet neither one, I know, precedes
     in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen
in living bread that gives us being
     in black of night.

She calls on all mankind to start
to drink her water, though in dark,
     for black is night.

O living fountain that I crave,
in bread of life I see her flame
     in black of night.

-- from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

In this poem, John of the Cross is speaking of a secret fountain as if it is a divine, living being -- and it is. This isn't merely a poetic metaphor, it is a description of actual mystical experience rendered into the language of poetry.

Mystics throughout the world and in all traditions describe an awareness of a flowing of water, a water that is alive. Coming into contact with that water, touching it, drinking it, feeling it flow inside you and all around you, quickens a new sense of life within. Everything, yourself included, is suddenly seen as radically alive in a way that could not have been imagined before. It is this water that is the foundational "stuff" of the manifest world, all things are formed of it and exist within it.

Accompanying this is a sense of a rising up and overflowing of energy -- a fountain. This is felt as originating in the seat, beginning to spread out in the solar plexus, flowing generously in the heart, and anointing the crown with a glistening light.

John of the Cross refers to this fountain as "she," equating it with the Holy Spirit in Christian tradition.

And why is this fountain always discovered "in black of night"? Night, the dark night of the soul, is fundamental to the mystical language developed by John of the Cross. One way to understand it is as the disorienting space of initiation, when the awareness has released its identification with material creation, and waits uncertainly for the Divine. Understood this way, the night is the spiritual threshold. It is within this psychic emptiness that we discover the fountain.


PS - Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim friends! I hope this Ramadan was a time of blessings and beauty and renewal.

PPS - My heart breaks for the people of Bangladesh and the world affected by the recent terrible attacks. I have no proper words to express the grief and horror.

PPPS - RIP Elie Wiesel. The world has lost a great soul. May his passing awaken within us all the seeing conscience he so nobly embodied.

May I share with you one of the principles that governs my life? It is the realization that what I receive I must pass on to others. The knowledge that I have acquired must not remain imprisoned in my brain. I owe it to many men and women to do something with it. I feel the need to pay back what was given to me. Call it gratitude.

Isn't this what education is all about?

There is divine beauty in learning, just as there is human beauty in tolerance. To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you.

~ Elie Wiesel



Recommended Books: John of the Cross

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
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The Fountain