(Belgium, c. 1240)   

Hadewijch is at the very heart of literature from the low countries. This mystic from Brabant occupies a lofty seat in the throne-room of spiritual courtly poetry and was the first woman in Europe to risk singing of mystical love in pure love poetry.

In the late Middle Ages, Hadewijch was deeply admired in religious circles. When her work was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, people were initially astounded: was it erotic or spiritual love that was being celebrated so ardently? Soon a new fascination developed, no longer kindled by religious sentiment, but by Hadewijch’s linguistic virtuosity: at the dawn of Dutch literature stands a woman who, with astonishing craftsmanship, gave shape to a passionate mysticism of longing.

Little is known about Hadewijch’s life. What is certain is that she belonged to a movement of mulieres religiosae. From 1200 onwards, many women in the southern Netherlands opted for a religious life that was not bound by rules. They freely chose a way of life that best served their pursuit of the divine: in a hermitage, in a house shared with kindred spirits, or as itinerants. Hadewijch herself shared a house with some friends, for whom she was a spiritual leader. Her work, which consists of letters, visions and songs, was written in the context of this mission.

The texts translated here are part of her Mystieke minneliederen (Mystical Courtly Songs). This collection of songs contains 45 strophic poems, modelled on courtly love poetry: a knight sings about the pain and joy he experiences in his noble quest for his Lady, Love. In an immediate and intense way, Hadewijch sings of love and despair, of terrible loneliness and the longing for union: her passion is almost tangible to the reader and listener.
In 1980 an English translation of Hadewijch’s complete works appeared in the series The Classics of Western Spirituality. Since then she has occupied a prominent place not only in Dutch literary history, but also in the history of European mysticism. Countless studies of her work have appeared in many languages. 

In Flanders and Holland the poetry of Hadewijch influenced numerous generations of poets. Recently the Flemish literary magazine Revolver paid tribute to her work with a special issue, wherein contemporary poets wrote poems, inspired by Hadewijch. This included both young poets such as Maria Barnas, Eva Cox and Saskia de Jong and established poets such as Lucienne Stassaert. The latter translated Hadewijch into modern Dutch in 2002.

The new focus on Hadewijch will continue in the coming years with the planned publication of her collected works. In 2009 a new edition of her Mystieke minneliederen, with a new modern Dutch translation by Veerle Fraeters and Frank Willaert, will appear in the prestigious Delta series, published by Historische Uitgeverij. The English translations published here are recent translations by Judith Wilkinson and are based on the new Dutch translation of the Mystieke minneliederen.

© Veerle Fraeters & Frank Willaert (Translated by Judith Wilkinson)

Translations (selection)

Hadewijch: the complete works, SPCK, 1981

Hadewijch d'Anvers: poèmes de Béguines, Seuil, 1954
Lettres spirituelles, Claude Martingay, 1972
Les visions, Ad Solem, 2000

Schwester Hadewich: Visionen, Insel, 1917

Poesie miste, Marietti, 2007
Poesie - visioni - lettere, Marietti, 2000
Cinque visioni; con testo brabantino, Morcelliana, 1947

Other languages
Hungarian: A lélek nyelvén, Szent István Társulat, 2005
Frisian: Fersen fan minne, Frysk en Frij, 2001

Hadewych's page on the website of the Royal Library of The Hague (In Dutch)



Subscribe to the newsletter

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (international)  

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (Dutch)