How the Soul Through the Senses Finds God in All Creatures

by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes
Original Language Italian

O Love, divine Love, why do You lay siege to me?
In a frenzy of love for me, You find no rest.

From five sides You move against me,
Hearing, sight, taste, touch, and scent.
To come out is to be caught; I cannot hide from You.

If I come out through sight I see Love
Painted in every form and color,
Inviting me to come to You, to dwell in You.

If I leave through the door of hearing,
What I hear points only to You, Lord;
I cannot escape Love through this gage.

If I come out through taste, every flavor proclaims:
"Love, divine Love, hungering Love!
You have caught me on Your hook, for you want to reign in me."

If I leave through the door of scent
I sense You in all creation; You have caught me
And wounded me through that fragrance.

If I come out through the sense of touch
I find Your lineaments in every creature;
To try to flee from You is madness.

-- from Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality), Translated by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

We are in the midst of the Christmas Advent season, so I thought I would select a poem by Jacopone da Todi. His meditations on the power of love always move me, and sometimes startle me.

This is an interesting selection to me, the way it reverses several common ideas in sacred literature. Jacopone addresses Love -- Divine Love -- as a force laying siege to him.

O Love, divine Love, why do You lay siege to me?

So often, on the spiritual journey, we imagine that Divine Love is something we must struggle to attain or awaken, yet, to the poet, Love is all around him, trying to claim him, not the other way around.

Love's "attack" naturally takes the form of love:

In a frenzy of love for me, You find no rest.

Once we get past the violence of the image, I find I really like this reversal. When we seek to attain something, that comes hand-in-hand with the assumption that we lack what we seek. But in Jacopone's vision of Love as the assailant, Love is already there, and all we have to do is drop our defenses. There is no lack and no effort, simply a pure yielding into the Divine Presence already with us. We come to recognize that all of our effort is used in avoiding Love, not in attaining it.

The other reversal of this poem is how it meditates on the five senses as reminders of God.

From five sides You move against me,
Hearing, sight, taste, touch, and scent.
To come out is to be caught; I cannot hide from You.


Much of sacred writing, especially from the monastic world, is about transcending the world of the senses, yet in this poem Jacopone describes each sense as a sort of divine trap, designed to unavoidably lead him to the awareness of Love's presence everywhere. Sight, hearing, taste, scent, and touch -- they all reflect something of the divine nature of reality.

There is an interesting duality of approach here. I myself have engaged in meditative practices that withdraw the awareness and energies that tend to flow out through the senses. And this can be such a powerful thing, creating a profound sense of completeness within oneself while breaking the normal compulsion to always be outwardly focused. Yet, when we perceive the sensory world in such a way that we no longer engage in the constant categorization of "I want this sensation, but I don't want that sensation," the senses don't hide; they reveal. When we engage with the senses but leave the ego's desire to possess experiences behind, we find that the senses themselves reveal the most heavenly expressions of Reality. When we really learn to look (or feel, or hear, or smell, or taste) we discover that everything is part of the playful mask that never fully hides the Beloved's smiling Face.

To try to flee from You is madness.



Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty
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Amazon or AbeBooks
Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality)
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Amazon or AbeBooks
All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time
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Amazon or AbeBooks







How the Soul