Hildegard of Bingen: A Sonnet

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

The 17th of September is the feast day of Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, a remarkable and prophetic woman, who described herself as ‘a feather on the breath of God’, and whose many works in theology, music, visual art, poetry and drama are still inspiring people today. Indeed she is coming more and more into her own, as one of her key ideas ‘Viriditas’, or the greening and life-renewing work of the Holy Spirit, seems especially apposite for our time. See this page on her by a contemporary Benedictine.

The photo below is by Margot Krebs Neale

I wrote this sonnet at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire. It is published in my second volume of poetry The Singing Bowl, Canterbury Press,  available on Amazon in both the US and the UK

As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the play button or the title.

Hildegard of Bingen

A feather on the breath of God at play,

You saw the play of God in all creation.

You drew eternal light into each day,

And every living breath was inspiration.

You made a play with every virtue playing,

Made music for each sister-soul to sing,

Listened for what each herb and stone was saying,

And heard the Word of God in everything.


Mother from mother earth and Magistra, 

Your song revealed God’s hidden gift to us;

The verdant fire, his holy harbinger

The greening glory of viriditas.

‘Cherish this earth that keeps us all alive’

Either we hear you, or we don’t survive.


Photo by Margot Krebs Neale

Photo by Margot Krebs Neale


Filed under imagination

14 responses to “Hildegard of Bingen: A Sonnet

  1. gwhhansen

    Thank you, Malcolm.

    I forwarded this sonnet to my wife, daughter, sisters, and daughter-in-law as a way to encourage them that they are wonderful women like Hildegard.

    I drank in every word you spoke at DITA10. Your sonnets nourish my spirit.

    Thank you!


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Jeff

    Very beautiful. Thank you.

  3. Reblogged this on Pastor Michael Moore's Blog and commented:
    Beautiful, Malcolm!

  4. “Either we hear you or we don’t survive.” Your words here and in The Mariner (which I’m still reading and savoring) are echoes of that invisible Kingdom here on earth. You words are a gift.

  5. janet dacombe

    Wonderful words x God Bless x

  6. lynndmorrissey

    Such a beautiful sonnet and concept: Viriditas. I’d not heard of “greening” expressed that way before. I love Psalm 92, where the psalmist talks about our flourishing and greening even in old age: “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” I’m wondering, too, if you mention greening via another poet’s work in either your Advent or Lenten collection. It moved me greatly, and now I can’t quite place it or the poet. And while I think of your books, Word in the Wilderness and Waiting on the Word, were transformational for me. God spoke so powerfully to me through many of your poems, but especially, First Steps, Branchester. That poem was the catalyst God used to give me the courage to make a solo trip to Iona Scotland to meet a group of women on a spiritual retreat. I had never traveled abroad without my husband and was petrified. Your poem gave me the courage to set out on what would become the most life-altering adventures of my life to date, and where God broke me free from a stronghold of fear that had plagued me much of my adult life. I am eternally grateful to you. Oh, and God used the inspiration from your poem The Lectern, in Sounding the Seasons, to actually save a baby’s life! Mr. Guite, you never know to where the Lord will fling your words and how hearts will be changed eternally. I remain in your debt.
    Lynn Morrissey
    Saint Louis, Missouri

  7. Blackler

    Thank you again. Drawn into the Hildegard mystery from the first line. Haven’t heard from you for a while. Made my day


    The Very Revd Dr Stuart Blackler Dean Emeritus of Hobart

    PO Box 9102 South Yarra Vic 3141 Australia

    +61 411 239 351 blackler@bigpond.net.au


  8. Mary Herbert

    This is a powerful and beautiful sonnet.

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