John of the Cross is best known to Enlgish readers for his spiritual classic "Dark Night," though he is hailed as one of Spain's greatest poets for his many poems that reflect his love for God, and his desire to known and love God better (his fame in that sense is simlar to Rumi's in which these are often used as romantic peoms for lovers too).
His writing in general exhorts people to love God, and reflect the idea that by purging one self of vices and cultivating virtues (chief among which are charity towards others and humilty in all) one will be better able to understand God's intentions for us and better able to love, which is the reflection of God to others. People he inspired included Therese of Liseux, Edith Stein, Teresa of Avila, and Pope John Paul II.
"Dark Night," portrays the passive purification that one's soul experiences when growing closer to God. It was written after "Ascent of Mount Carmel," which gives instructions as to how a person should work to actively purge the soul of imperfections in order to move closer to God. Both of tehse wroks have many similariteis with yogic and Buddhist philosophy.
The two works are deeply integrated and best read together. However, it is very difficult to find copies of "Ascent of Mount Carmel," since the work was incomplete. This volume offers one of the rare copies of this treasured text.
"The Collected Works" were translated and organized by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, both of whom are Carmelite priests. The translation is as easy to read, as one can find of John's work, whose writing style is not as accessible as that by other popular mytics such as Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena. The book comprises everything written by John of the Cross, including his poems and some letters. The authors preface each work with a background that gives a summary of its importance and the historical context in which it was written.
The introduction of the book has an excellent abbreviated biography of John of Cross, and explains the influence that Teresa of Avila had on him and vice versa. The book's appendix has a glossary of terms which helps the reader better comprehend John's writing.
The use of footnotes through out the text is not excessive and does not interrupt the flow of the writing by distracting the reader's attention, but rather provides essential information at junctures in which the reader might be thinking "what???" There is also a helpful timeline in the beginning of the book that juxtaposes John of the Cross's life to events in Spanish history and the life of the Church. Finally, the book includes drawings made by John of the Cross that he designed to articulate his ideas to those he instructed. I can think of no better book with which to study John of the Cross in the English language, and when the book presents his drawings and poems, it offers the Spanish version next to the English.