Love has subjugated me

by Hadewijch

English version by Mother Columba Hart
Original Language Dutch

Love has subjugated me:
     To me this is no surprise,
     For she is strong and I am weak.
     She makes me
     Unfree of myself,
     Continually against my will.
She does with me what she wishes;
Nothing of myself remains to me;
     Formerly I was rich,
Now I am poor: everything is lost in love.

-- from Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I know this poem triggers a bit of a fear reflex. Although it speaks of Love, it seems to be about loss, loss of everything, loss of will, even loss of self. But let's look a little deeper...

This verse uses such strong language that it is almost violent. Yet it is so intimate, it has an uncomfortably sexual element -- "She does with me what she wishes..."

This is a mystic ravished by Love.

Hadewijch implies both a struggle, but also a supreme yielding. She is "subjugated" by Love. She is made "unfree."

And this process of being overtaken by Love results in a complete loss:

Nothing of myself remains to me;
     Formerly I was rich,
Now I am poor: everything is lost in love.


We must remember that this is the mystic, in sacred ecstasy -- but the words are the voice to the little self, the ego. The expanded self, however, is flooded with bliss. This real self has lost nothing, and instead has gained a wholeness of being difficult to put into words. Yet the little self that clings to fragments of reality... well, those fragments are lost in the unity. The more all-encompassing that unity, the more complete the ego's loss.

So that is where the loss is, in the small self. It is the ego's will that is thwarted. It is the ego that is weakened and impoverished. The new sense of being is much too big for the ego, and the ego-self is stretched into transparency. Finally, the ego loses even itself in the overwhelm of Love.

I know, those Medieval types had a special knack for making the most glorious insights sound gloomy. :-) But remember the truth behind the words. The next time you cringe at some ancient religious tract praising poverty, loss of self, enslavement -- remember. A deep mystic knows the bliss, the giddy freedom -- and the immense flood of Love -- contained in the words.

Every "thing" is lost, yes. But, in that rush of expansive Love, a whole universe enters your embrace.



Recommended Books: Hadewijch

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Shambhala Anthology of Women's Spiritual Poetry Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics: Hadewijch of Brabant, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and Marguerite Porete
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Love has subjugated