Jul 08 2013

Mechthild of Magdeburg – Then shall I leap into love

Published by at 9:05 am under Poetry

Then shall I leap into love
by Mechthild of Magdeburg

English version by Frank J. Tobin

I cannot dance, Lord, unless you lead me.
If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.
Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment beyond all human sensations.
There I want to remain, yet want also to circle higher still.

— from Mechthild of Magdeburg: The Flowing Light of the Godhead (Classics of Western Spirituality), by Mechthild of Magdeburg / Translated by Frank J. Tobin

/ Photo by frans16611 /

This brief poem dances with us into deeper and deeper communion. It begins with us in a state of total surrender to the Divine (“I cannot dance, Lord, unless you lead me”). The Divine Beloved sings, and we leap with abandon, we dance upon each rung as we ascend a heavenly ladder:

Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment beyond all human sensations.

I’ll say that these translated lines should be juicier, tastier. I might have rendered it as a journey from from “love” into “wisdom,” from “wisdom” into “rapture” or “bliss.” And what is she trying to suggest when we step from bliss into something that is “beyond all human sensations”? She is talking about something much bigger than the words of this translation evoke. This last rung steps into the open Mystery, in its immense spaciousness and life and immediacy. Doing so, the little sense of self, the embodied self that perceives reality through the senses fades away. Mechthild is not saying something about overcoming sensuality; instead, she is describing how we enter the wide-open field of awareness, unfiltered by the mundane mind and mundane sense of self.

And just when we think there is nowhere else to go, when we “want to remain” in that expansive unity, Mechthild hits us with an explosion of new and incomprehensible aspiration “to circle higher still.”

Our journey with Mechthild carries us from the passive to the fiercely active. Ironically, it is when we yield that we leap and dance and ascend, and it is in our wildest yearning that we are most complete and content and quiet.

Relax, leap into love… and then see where you end up.

Mechthild of Magdeburg, Mechthild of Magdeburg poetry, Christian poetry Mechthild of Magdeburg

Germany (1207 – 1297) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Mechthild of Magdeburg was born around the year 1207, probably into a noble family in northern Germany.

She had a defining ecstatic experience at the age of twelve, where she saw “all things in God and God in all things.”

In 1235, when Mechthild was in her twenties, she joined the Beguine sisterhood, as many women mystics of the time did in Germany and the Low Countries. As a Beguine she led a life of simplicity, service, and spiritual practice.

Her confessor, Heinrich of Halle, convinced her to write down her ongoing mystical visions. This project took many years as it was interrupted by periods of sickness and having to deal with the attacks of religious critics. She only completed this work in about 1282, a few years before her death, and just after she joined an order of Cistercian nuns at Helfta.

This book, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, describes the experience of unio mystica (mystical union) in terms of the sacred marriage between the soul as the Bride and Christ as the Bridegroom. Her poetry stands out as among the most elevated mystical love poetry in the German language, drawing comparisons to the Sufi poets of the Middle East and the Bhakti poets of India.

The great Italian poet Dante is said to have been greatly inspired by Mechthild’s writing, and some have suggested that that he based his character Matilda in his Divine Comedy on her.

More poetry by Mechthild of Magdeburg

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Mechthild of Magdeburg – Then shall I leap into love”

  1. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 08 Jul 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Ivan, your comments, opened wide Mechthild’s words
    for me. I felt, too, the translation limited her meaning. But she spoke to me–about being led in the dance and abandonment for what the Divine has for us beyond all imagining. Thank you.
    And blessings in your work on the new website.

  2. ebrahimon 10 Jul 2013 at 12:51 am

    me and him are now doing the tango
    he says leap, but catches me when i do
    i dance with frightful gay abandon
    as he tells me about the dark shadow i come from
    that of original lights inversion

    in this dance of nowhere
    i know he will let go and i will fall
    as first light must do
    so rise above it all
    but than Satan did fall as Adam too

    i know now i must depart
    to an earth i am loathsome too
    where i am stripped of the label of name
    all so lost without identity
    spiraling like a galaxy

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