Dec 20 2013

Jacopone da Todi – Love beyond all telling

Published by at 9:52 am under Poetry

Love beyond all telling (from Self-Annihilation and Charity Lead the Soul…)
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

Love beyond all telling,
Goodness beyond imagining,
Light of infinite intensity
Glows in my heart.

I once thought that reason
Had led me to You,
And that through feeling
I sensed Your presence,
Caught a glimpse of You in similitudes,
Knew You in Your perfection.
I know now that I was wrong,
That that truth was flawed.

Light beyond metaphor,
Why did You deign to come into this darkness?
Your light does not illumine those who think they see You
And believe they sound Your depths.
Night, I know now, is day,
Virtue no more to be found.
He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

On achieving their desired end
Human powers cease to function,
And the soul sees that what it thought was right
Was wrong. A new exchange occurs
At that point where all light disappears;
A new and unsought state is needed:
The soul has what it did not love,
And is stripped of all it possessed, no matter how dear.

In God the spiritual faculties
Come to their desired end,
Lose all sense of self and self-consciousness,
And are swept into infinity.
The soul, made new again,
Marveling to find itself
In that immensity, drowns.
How this comes about it does not know.

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


/ Photo by AquaSixio /

Love beyond all telling,
Goodness beyond imagining,
Light of infinite intensity
Glows in my heart.

Too often statements like this can sound like a formula of religious piety, but it is more than that. These are the direct experiences of the mystic. The chest warms, the heart opens and seems to encompass all of creation. This is not just an idea or some philosophical notion — it is felt tangibly in the body as well as the soul. Love floods in, and a sense of utter harmony, rightness, the “goodness” of being. And many mystics also witness a dazzling gold-white light like an ocean that radiates through everything, showing the multiplicity of creation to secretly be a shining unity.

It is this that Jacopone da Todi is writing of.

I once thought that reason
Had led me to You,
And that through feeling
I sensed your presence…

I know now that I was wrong,
That that truth was flawed.

These verses are a call to the religious minded to not be content with thinking one has found the truth or assertions of belief alone. Or even to imagine that it is felt through elevated or refined emotions. He is proclaiming that the real truth is somehow more direct and surprising than that. All mental conceptualization is limited by the intellect and imagination, yet the reality we seek is beyond the thinking mind’s ability to conceive of…

Light beyond metaphor…

He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

Here, words fail. The mind can only become a mute witness.

The very notion of self melts amidst that immensity…

In God the spiritual faculties
Come to their desired end,
Lose all sense of self and self-consciousness,
And are swept into infinity.
The soul, made new again,
Marveling to find itself
In that immensity, drowns.
How this comes about it does not know.






Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti), Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) poetry, Christian poetry Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Little is known with historical certainty about the life of of Jacopone da Todi. He was born Jacopone Benedetti to a wealthy family in the town of Todi, Italy. As a young man he entered a career as a notario, combining the skills of an accountant and a lawyer. And he married. All of these elements suggest an early life of modest wealth.

A popular story from an early religious biography suggests that his life drastically changed when, at a wedding feast, a balcony collapsed and mortally wounded his young wife. Devastated, Jacopone abandoned his career and gave away all of his possessions. This event is questioned by modern historians, however, as possibly being manufactured for religious drama. But something happened to his wife and prompted his radical conversion.

He become a wandering penitent and a source of public ridicule. Jacopone eventually joined the Franciscan order. Among the Franciscans, he discovered his gift for poetry. Brother Jacopone became a leader of the Spirituals faction of Franciscans who dedicated themselves to the ideal of radical poverty.

The Franciscan Spirituals got caught up in the ugly politics of papal succession of the time, and Jacopone was imprisoned for five years for his opposition to the election of Pope Boniface VIII. Throughout this time, Jacopone continued to write his ecstatic and mournful poems that touch upon the deepest personal encounters with divine Love.

With his release on Pope Boniface’s death, Jacopone retired to a hermitage near Orvieto. He died on Christmas Day in 1306.

More poetry by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Jacopone da Todi – Love beyond all telling”

  1. Jennyon 20 Dec 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Yes, the sense of “god” goes beyond human comprehension and if in the past we have ascribed person-hood to “god” we realize that is an error. “In God the spiritual faculties Come to their desired end.”

  2. Pegon 22 Dec 2013 at 9:49 am

    Thank you so much Ivan for your skills in bringing clarity, remembrance, and insight.

  3. Joyce Stahmannon 12 Apr 2014 at 9:48 am

    Love this! Especially the beautiful light that we are, drowning, and all our ideas turned inside out. Thank you, Ivan.

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