Juan de Yepes y Álvarez was born in Spain and entered the Carmelite Order as a young man. After a meeting with St. Teresa of Avila, he joined her attempts at reforming the order and pledged himself to a more stringently monastic and studious life than Carmelites then practiced. Arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for his beliefs by his fellow monks, John underwent a spiritual awakening while captive that led to an outpouring of mystical poetry and writing, later collected in volumes such as Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom of Christ. He was canonized a saint in 1726.

St. John of the Cross is considered one of Spanish literature’s most important poets, and his works have been translated many times since his death. In the 20th century, poets John Frederick Nims and Willis Barnstone translated the poetry of St. John of the Cross into English.