Humility

by Marguerite Porete

English version by Ellen L. Babinsky


This Humility, who is aunt and mother,
is daughter of Divine majesty and so is born from Divinity.
Deity is her mother and grandmother of her branches,
by whom the buds make such great fruitfulness.
We are silent about them, for speaking ruins them.
This one, that is, Humility,
has given the stem and the fruit from the buds,
because she is there, close
to the peace of this Fairness
who unencumbers her from works,
and turns away the speaking,
makes dark there the pondering.
This Fairness unencumbers,
no one encumbers her with anything.
This one is freed from all service,
for she lives by freeness.
Whoever serves, he is not free,
whoever senses, he has not died,
whoever desires, he wills,
whoever wills, he begs,
whoever begs, he has a lack of divine sufficiency.

-- from Marguerite Porete: Mirror of Simple Souls (Classics of Western Spirituality), by Ellen Babinsky

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

There is a lot of richness to discover in this poem by Marguerite Porete. I'll just suggest a few things to contemplate...

Why is she singing these praises of "humility"? What do most people mean when they speak of humility? Do you think a mystic's understanding of humility is different?

Notice that Marguerite Porete describes "Divinity" and "Deity" in feminine terms as "mother" and "grandmother." Bold, dangerously bold, in Christian Europe. But that feminine language, mixed with the imagery of a tree and "buds" and "fruitfulness" conveys a mysticism of nature and life and growth that feels a lot like the writings of Hildegard von Bingen.

"We are silent about them, for speaking ruins them." What a great line. The mystic's silence. Trying to contain the vast, formless Truth in words necessarily entails an editing. The divide between the words and the reality is so great, that silence alone can convey the full meaning.

And those final closing lines about "freeness" and the traps that keep us from knowing it...



Recommended Books: Marguerite Porete

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Marguerite Porete: Mirror of Simple Souls (Classics of Western Spirituality) Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages The Soul as Virgin Wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart
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Humility