After reading A Mirror for Simple Souls

Writing a mysterious text on the precious parchment of the soul, in words no human mouth can utter.—Marguerite Porete, A Mirror for Simple Souls

they wrenched your words from your body

then ripped your sex from your words

which circulated motherless for six hundred years

attributed to men in flagrant opposition

to your florid feminine metaphors

finally united with your name

only in the age of science

an age that vaunted your renown long after

the triumph of a Reason you wished to slay

and the occlusion of the community for which you stood firm

opposing the church

their death sentence boasted of their sumptuous violent power

a cracked mirror to your purity and faith

 

in the shadows here below a life brought to nothingness
she cannot be robbed she cannot be given anything
they cannot tell good from evil sin has no weight or measure
cross the valley of humility and the plain of truth
look into the depths from the depths and up to the heights from the heights
so she goes naked into an unknown land surely the virtues must serve such souls
we should be moderate in all things except in love
the wound of love is the death of reason only the innocent can escape the weight of this burden

 

were we to place ourselves with the unconsoled

to grasp the hand of the begger instead of the designer purse

to follow the wisdom that appends no string of letters after our name

to vanish from all hierarchies

suppress the clever rejoinder to party-time repartee

pass up the plaque in the chapel

were we not to try to dull our pain

were we to seek the mountains that elevate the soul

rather than the ritual high places

humbly to serve a single cause

and stand with the hosts

 

Around 1300, the mystical Christian devotee Marguerite Porete wrote an inspirational treatise named A Mirror for Simple Souls that quickly became popular across Western Europe. Her recommendations, while well-researched and couched in particularly lovely prose, were standard for mystics of the time: giving oneself over entirely to God, renouncing material and worldly concerns, trusting only in an entirely personal inspiration for guidance.

Although many had been writing similar texts for more than a century (including Hildegard von Bingen and Meister Eckhart), a local bishop decided to persecute Marguerite, perhaps because she was vulnerable as a woman without a male patron and perhaps because the local beguine sect of which she was associated was currently drawing a lot of support. Marguerite was declared a heretic and executed.

A Mirror for Simple Souls was still widely translated and read, but as an anonymous text. Only in 1946 was the text matched with quotes from Marguerite’s trial and reassociated with her.

The middle “mirror” section of this poem is composed of quotations from the book (published by Crossroad Spiritual Classics, translated by Charles Crawford).

Andy Oram
December 23, 2023

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