The thirteenth-century beguine Hadewijch was a lyric poet form the Antwerp region. She adapted the form of courtly love poetry to her love for Minne, Love. In the original middle Dutch you can get a sense of the meter, rhyme, consonance, assonance, and word play, but what really stands out is the depth and riches of her description of the path of love.

All of her poetry and other work is outstanding. Unfortunately, I am not aware of translations of her works that are in the public domain. This poem is from Poetry of Hadewijch, Introductory essay, translation, and notes by van Baest, Peeters, 1998. There is also a volume of her works in the Classics of Western Spirituality series.

Die tekenen doen ons wel in scine
Voghele bloemen land die dach
Dat si verwinnen selen hare pine
Die te winter zere wach
Want hem die zomer troesten mach
Soe staet hem blide saen te sine
Daer ic moet doghen swaren slach
Ic waer oec blide gave mi dat mine
Ghelucke dat die met mi en plach

The omens make very clear to us
—Birds, flowers, land, the daylight —
That they will overcome their pain
That weighted heavily on them in winter,
Because summer may comfort them.
That is why soon they will grow glad,
Whereas I must suffer heavy setbacks.
I too would be glad if my good fortune would allow me,
But never has it heeded me.

Alas, in what have I offended good fortune
That ever it was so adverse to me;
That it so sorely oppresses my nature,
Many times more than all people;
That it does not requite my faithfulness,
Unless it be now and then, with a freak?
Well, perhaps that was what I was owed.
Therefore I will leave my point of view.
Love may treat me with the freedom of her sovereignty.

Might I but entrust myself to love,
Then what she makes me endure in faithfulness
Might still stand me in good stead.
May my view on this be accurate:
That love has done this in faithfulness.
And if she then would consider my need!
If that would happen, it could not be too soon for me.
Because my shield is so grievously hewn through
That it cannot ward off any more slashes.

Whoever could understand all this as good
Would have gained an insight outside my ken:
In setbacks, in disgrace, in maltreatment,
For love to endure anything without resentment
And in spite of all cost to be so gratified as
To be able to say: “This is the best speed I can have”
Like one that does not know of anything better.
Whoever would do thus, would be named wise.
That I am not, which grieves me.

Now comfort, then again wounds
Does love give, being versed in many things.
After heavy blows she gives healing.
How could anyone guard himself against this?
Even from those that stake all they ever won
She conceals cognition of herself.
That one she awards
The sweet kisses of her mouth,
The other she puts under the ban.

Ah, deus, who shall absolve the one
Whom love puts under the ban?
She herself! If he will but plead against her,
Stand up to her boldly
And consider all to be good speed
— Pain and joy in one handling —
Accepting all as equally good.
Thus love teaches him to jubilate
And she initiates him into all her wonders.

After a heavy storm the weather turns fair,
That often becomes clear to us.
Sometimes wrath and after that conciliation,
Make love unwavering.
Whosoever one proves to be so worth in all,
Becomes so dauntless by love’s pains
That he swears: “Love, I am all yours!
Nothing but you have I to forfeit,
O, gentle love, be you all mine!”

If good fortune, which ever has hated me so,
Would let me be healed in love,
I would yet be all love to love,
So that my woe would have served a purpose.
Then, in her perilous deep, would I
Read all her verdicts on me
And rely on love in love.
If my nature were risen to such height,
Then my hunger would be sated.

In our application to love we are too laggard,
That is why in this we are aliens to her,
And so we remain poor. Know this, all of you:
To whosoever would behave towards love according to love’s pleasure,
To him would she give her realm and her riches.


Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin College and the director of ccel.org and hymnary.org.