Research Paper: Hildegard of Bingen

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Hildegard of Bingen was many different things to many different people. She was one of the first women to distinguish themselves within the Catholic Church as someone worthy of the consultation of prominent ecclesiastical figures including popes, archbishops, and clergymen -- an accomplishment that is all the more noteworthy due to the fact that she lived during the dark ages in the 12th century. During that time, Hildegard gathered international renown for her compositions in a diverse body of media including visual arts, music and the written word (in which she wrote plays, lyrics, poetry, non-fiction, and ecclesiastical works) -- all of which were fueled by her powerful visions relating to her religious convictions. Although Hildegard was eventually canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI (Speciale), a thorough examination of the majority of her works reveals that in spite of (or more than likely due to) her religious convictions and the potent dissemination of spirit which possessed her, the unifying factor between these works of the forerunner of a Renaissance figure (which she came before by approximately a century) was that she was a poet.

In order to prove this thesis, readers must be aware of the fact that modern conceptions of poetry and of poets are immensely different than those during the time in which Hildegard lived. In contemporary times poets are largely regarded as either rappers who cannot say their rhyming words to a particular rhythm, or as old, stuffy types who write a bunch of rigidly constructed verses which are difficult to understand. During Hildegard's life, however, a poet was closer to a synonym for an artist who eagerly used any number of mediums as a form of expression. The rhythmic cadence of poems in the Middle Ages, such as Beowulf, was actually designed to be delivered aloud in a chanting, song-like format. Therefore, there was a close relation between writing poetry and writing songs. A good example of this fact is that the Latin word for song, carmen, also translates into the word poem. Latin is the language that English is descended from. Thus, Hildegard's musical output and much of her written work are linked by the fact that both were simply expressions of her religiously inspired poetry.

There is little need to doubt the fact that much of Hildegard's written work was highly poetic in nature. Virtually all of her creations were attributed, either directly or indirectly, to the moving visions of God and his word that she began chronicling close to the midway point of the 12 the century. Hildegard's initially literary works were transcriptions of those visions, and included Scivias or Know the Ways of the Lord, the Book of Subtleties of the Diverse Nature of Things, and the Books of Divine Works. Passages from all of these works utilize a poetic tone of voice and other conventions of poetry, as the following passage, in which God is speaking, from the Book of Divine Works proves.

I, the highest and fiery power, have kindled every spark of life & #8230; I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon, and stars. With every breeze, as with invisible life that contains everything, I awaken everything to life. (Hildegard 33).

There is a compelling sense of beauty in the imagery in this quotation, which is highly reminiscent of poetry. This entire passage is a metaphor comparing God to fire -- a divine fire which is the creator of life itself. The author's diction demonstrated in the verbs in this passage, "gleam," "burn," and "awaken" present strong image with language that shows instead of telling, which is a characteristic of good poetry. Additionally, one should note that the subject matter in this passage, God, his divinity, his power and his influence, has provided the inspiration for many other works of poetry (such as the Book of Psalms in the Bible).

Hildegard's propensity for poetry was readily noticeable in her works of music. The saint wrote both music as well as lyrics to many different hymns, a number of which are published in Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations. As previously mentioned, poetry in the Middle Ages was purposefully written to be chanted aloud. In writing lyrics to hymns, Hildegard merely expounded on this process and wrote subtle melodies which were created with the melodies of the music in mind. Although the saint primarily wrote in Latin, English translations of many of her hymns still are able to convey their poetic quality. An analysis of the lyrics in the hymn entitled "O Pulcher Facies," which is an antiphon, demonstrates this point well. "…the king saw his image / in your faces / when he made you mirrors of/all heaven's graces, / a garden of surpassing / sweetness, a fragrance / wafting all graciousness" (Hildegard 219). The poetry in this hymn is extremely evident. Even though this passage was translated in English, the reader (or listener) is still able to get the effect of the rhymes as evinced by the rhyming of "faces" with "graces" and "fragrance" with "graciousness." Again, there is a fundamental beauty found in these lyrics, which poetry is frequently used as a medium of conveying. The sensual imagery of the scent of the garden and the grace of heaven is all extremely vivid and evocative of poetry. In this respect, then, it is clear that whether or not Hildegard was simply transcribing her visions or using them for the subject matter of music, the most strongest element to emerge from these works is their poetic nature.

The relationship between Hildegard's works as an expression of poetry is even noticeable in her visual art. Although there have been other noted poets and writers who have chosen visual expressions of their verbiage (Samuel Palmer and William Blake come to mind) Hildegard was one of the first pioneers of this tradition. In this respect, she was a forerunner of the Renaissance figures who routinely excelled in a number of seemingly unrelated fields. However, there was a distinct relationship between Hildegard's verbal poetry and her visual works of poetry, since they descended from the same source her visions. The following quotation makes this point perfectly clear.

Hildegard painted too - records of her visions, showing herself as a tiny seated figure with an open slate or book, gazing upwards at huge symbolic mandalas of cosmic processes, full of angels and demons and winds and stars…the paintings have simple patterned borders, naive figures, and schematic arrangements (Harrison).

One of the paintings that expresses the poetic aspect of Hildegard's visual works is entitled "Vision of the Earth." One of the ways in which viewers can tell that there are definite poetic qualities within this artwork is that they conform to many of the notions the author discusses in some of her more poetic passages of her vision. For instance, the theme that God is a flame that grants the spark of life to everything within the universe is visually represented in this particular painting by the bright, brilliant orange, red, and yellow colors that swirl around a circle that is representative of the earth. The sun's presence, as symbolizing the action and the spirit of God, is represented in these colors. As the preceding quotation above states, Hildegard is depicted in this piece of art as a much smaller figure in the corner, showing how slight and insignificant man is before the majesty of God and his principle work of the earth. The watery blue, purple and white colors of the orb itself symbolize the growth and the vitality that take place within the earth, and are every bit as poetic as the gleaming water the author identified in some of her verbal descriptions of her visions.

It is worth mentioning that in addition to simply transcribing her visions and using them as the substance for song lyrics, Hildegard engaged in other forms of writing as well in which she was able to express herself as a poet. Even in contemporary times, poets perform other type of writing. In fact, one of the hallmarks of a true poet is that no matter what he or she writes, whether it is fiction,, autobiographical, non-fiction, or drama, it ends up conveying poetry. This assessment is true of the literature produced by William Shakespeare who, despite the many sonnets he created in his lifetime, is widely revered for the beautiful poetry in many of his works of drama. Such a statement also applies to Hildegard, especially when one considers her play Ordo Virtutum. This play is about a decidedly serious subject -- the nature of virtues, how they came to be and what effect they have on the planet and on man as intended by God. Yet it is apparent from the first lines of the play that the author will address this topic through the means of poetry. The following quotation, in which… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Hildegard of Bingen.  (2013, April 4).  Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

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