13 December 2023

St John of the Cross and Roy Campbell, two poets

St John of the Cross
Attributed to Francisco de Zurbarán [Wikipedia]
Feast Day 14 December (24 November in the Old Calendar)

Crisis Magazine today (13 December) carries an interesting article about South African poet Roy Campbell (1901-1957) written by Joseph Pearce, under the intriguing title A Convert Among Communists and Carmelites. I have used translations by Roy Campbell of poems by St John of the Cross (1542-1591) on this blog but never knew until I read Pearce's article of the intimate connection between the poet and the archives of the saint given to him by the Carmelite friars in Toledo, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) for safekeeping.

Two of Campbell's translations of the saint's poems are in the English-language Breviary approved for use by the hierarchies of Australia, England & Wales and Ireland in 1973. Below is one of them in the Spanish of St John of the Cross and the English of Roy Campbell. The English subtitles in the video are different from the latter.

Del Verbo Divino
San Juan de la Cruz
Translated by Roy Campbell

Del Verbo divino
la Virgen preñada
viene de camino :
¡ si les dais posada !

Concerning the Divine Word
St John of the Cross

With the divinest Word, the Virgin
Made pregnant, down the road
Comes walking, if you'll grant her
A room in your abode 

El Greco's landscape of Toledo depicts the Priory in which John was held captive, just below the old Muslim Alcazar and perched on the banks of the Tajo on high cliffs. (From Wikipedia).

From the Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross
(Office of Readings, Feast of St John of the Cross, 14 December)

There are depths to be fathomed in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many recesses containing treasures, and no matter how men try to fathom them the end is never reached. Rather, in each recess, men keep on finding here and there new veins of new riches.

St John wrote much of the Spiritual Canticle while he was imprisoned by other Carmelite friars.

From The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St John of the Cross
(Office of Readings, Advent Week 2, Monday)

When [God] gave us, as he did, his Son, who is his one Word, he spoke everything to us, once and for all in that one Word. There is nothing further for him to say.

I've highlighted these two texts because so often we can get caught in what are claimed to be revelations from God but that are not in harmony with the teaching of the Church. Such 'revelations' can lead us away from God.

The Annunciation (1433-34)
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

The Incarnation
by St John of the Cross
Translated by Roy Campbell

Then He summoned an archangel, 
Saint Gabriel: and when he came, 
Sent him forth to find a maiden, 
     Mary was her name.

Only through her consenting love 
Could the mystery be preferred 
That the Trinity in human 
     Flesh might clothe the Word.

Though the three Persons worked the wonder 
It only happened to the One. 
So was the Word made incarnation 
     In Mary's womb, a son.

So He who only had a Father 
Now had a Mother undefiled, 
Though not as ordinary maids 
     Had she conceived the Child.

By Mary, and with her own flesh 
He was clothed in His own frame: 
Both Son of God and Son of Man 
     Together had one name.  

The Annunciation (1442-43)
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

1 comment:

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
A very interesting story about two poets and they lived during our life time...
The singing is very well done!