Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 2: Mechtild of Madgeburg

I have often wondered about the link between historical figures who experienced divine or supernatural visions and modern figures who suffer from various types of mental illness. Whether people then and people now are describing the same kinds of occurrences with different vernacular, influenced by the contemporary intellectual tools they have at their disposal.

No idea, and I’m not going to pass judgment on it either way. But it is interesting to think about, I think.

This poem seems appropriate for all those who are observing Good Friday today.

I cannot dance, O Lord,
unless You lead me.
If You wish me to leap joyfully,
let me see You dance and sing —

Then I will leap into Love —
and from Love into Knowledge,
and from Knowledge into the Harvest,
that sweetest Fruit beyond human sense.

There I will stay with You, whirling.


Peter Paul Metz: Mechthild von Magdeburg, Fantasieporträt am Chorgestühl der Pfarrkirche Merazhofen (Leutkirch im Allgäu), 1896

Mechtild of Madgeburg (ca. 1207-1282, Germany) was born into a wealthy family and at age twelve said that she saw “all things in God, and God in all things.” In her early twenties, she entered the Beguines sisterhood and led a life of simplicity, service, and prayer. Over a fourteen-year period, she received ongoing mystical visions and the divine instruction to record these experiences. Mechtild’s love poetry has been compared to that of the Sufi poets of the Middle East and the bhakti poets of India. (Biographical information respectfully quoted from Mala of the Heart, edited by Ravi Nahwani and Kate Vogt.)

7 thoughts on “Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 2: Mechtild of Madgeburg

  1. What one person calls a divine vision and another calls a delusion could also be called creative inspiration. I think it’s what a person does with the experience that matters. Some people use “divine inspiration” to justify violent impulses, while others, like Mechtild of Madgeburg, use their visions to support a gentle, loving attitude toward life.

    It’s like she’s retroactively practicing what Mary Oliver preached — emphasizing the good in the world rather than fueling the destructive elements.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right, and I love that connection to Mary Oliver’s poem. I hadn’t even thought of it that way — the Mechtild piece was a very spontaneous inclusion on the serendipitous spur of the moment. I hadn’t even remembered her poem and came across it today unexpectedly!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You did not. 🙂 I took it down within minutes, when I realized I could contact the poet to get permission for posting it. Hopefully she will respond and give me that permission, and if so I will post it again later in the month.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dan Rifenburgh

    Here is a poem based on writings of the 11th century Byzantine Orthodox St. Symeon from my forthcoming book, Paper Boats:


    Possessing it, I do not see it.
    I contemplate it
    When it goes away.

    I quickly dash to seize it
    And it completely flies off.

    I am enflamed.
    I ask in tears to be beaten,
    To be trampled underfoot like dirt.

    I ask for the all-powerful humility,
    Stripping and pruning the will,
    Renouncing world, pride, glory.

    I choke in my desire to seize it
    And all is night.
    My poor hands are empty.

    Then, dimly, like a delicate ray, the light,
    Minute, then suddenly enveloping the mind,
    Enrapturing in ecstasy

    And then rapidly forsaking me, disappearing
    So I might not die, not burst or vomit
    With the food of perfect men.

    How to recall its beauty?
    How to understand?

    It appears not when we desire it
    But when we need it, are in trouble
    And totally worn out.

    After I have wept a lot,
    Embracing my poverty,
    I do not know what to do.

    I cannot laugh.
    I cannot look at man.
    I despair of seeing it again.

    I consent to cease.
    I sit down and weep.

    Then, mystically arrived,
    Coming from afar,
    A sweet light is kindled,

    Inviting silence,
    Stirred up by waiting,

    Treading where humility
    Has beaten down the grasses:

    Entirely incomprehensible,
    Inaccessible light,
    Light which operates everything,
    Flame reaching to heaven.

    It rejoices in my lowliness.
    It converses with me.
    It enlightens me, looks at me
    And I also look at it.

    It tears me away from the world
    And commands me: have mercy on all
    Who are in the world.

    It is in my heart; it exists in heaven.
    Now the dragon
    Is trampled underfoot.
    I have discovered the day which has no end.

    It invites me to ebb and flow with it,
    To go in and out
    And rest in its complacency.

    I have put my head in a ring.
    Where the golden curve of eternity
    Bends to surround me.

    I bear water to the peasants laboring in the fields
    With this jewel in my heart.


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