The Spring that Feeds the Torrent: Poems by St. John of the Cross, Translated by Rhina P. Espaillat
Regarded by many as one of the finest Spanish poets, the 16th century mystic St. John of the Cross wrote sublime poems that chronicle the soul’s purificatory pilgrimage through the dark night of the soul to the joy of mystical union with the Creator. To translate such works, with their passionate, intimate intensity, requires both boldness and delicacy.
The translator of poetry faces many challenges. As the late poet Timothy Murphy notes in his introduction, she must adhere “not just to beauty but to truth.” In these masterful renderings, Rhina P. Espaillat proves her prowess as both poet and translator. Espaillat has lived with these poems since she was a child, having heard them recited by her father. Her deep and loving connection to the sound and substance of these works has brought forth verses—exquisite in their own right—that transmit both the truth and the beauty of St. John’s original.
The poems of St. John of the Cross draw spirit and flesh together, pursuing their grand analogy in which divine love and human love mirror one another, expressing mystical insights in outpourings of language where the exalted and the humble are equally at home. Among translators who have struggled to capture this quality of resolved paradox, Rhina P. Espaillat is in the first rank. Her English versions are keenly attentive to the formal intricacies of the originals, and her stylistic choices are never quaintly antique nor jarringly contemporary. The language here is simply timeless, graceful in movement, imbued with the seraphic naturalness with which St. John was gifted. This volume is a remarkable cultural achievement; undoubtedly, as the translator herself has written, it is from first to last a labor of love.
—ROBERT B. SHAW, Emily Dickinson Professor of English Emeritus,
Mount Holyoke College
Rhina P. Espaillat’s translations of the verse of San Juan de la Cruz are a marvel of poetic re-creation. Her celebrated skill as a formalist poet in English, together with her native fluency in Spanish and her deep understanding of his work, gives readers in the Anglophone world all the beauty and mystical vision of his poems. Indeed, Espaillat’s translations show us why San Juan de la Cruz is recognized as one of the greatest poets in Spanish literature.
—JONATHAN COHEN, author of A Pan-American Life
At last we have this book of mystical poems by the Spanish saint, San Juan de la Cruz. Translator Rhina P. Espaillat has accurately and lushly rendered his paradoxes and rhapsodies using rhymes, meters, and rhythms that closely echo the music of the original Spanish. Enjoy it for yourself, then give copies to friends who love the work of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Publication Date: June 5, 2023
Retail Price: $14.00 (Paperback)