Hildegard’s Symphonia, translated

Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum
Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum by Hildegard of Bingen

Another lovely book of poetry by a saint who is not as well known as she should be. Barbara Newman, the translator, presents Hildegard’s Latin text on one page and splendidly provides two English translations: a “frankly and blithely interpretive” verse translation on the facing page, and a literal prose translation in a footnote at the end of each piece.

Her introduction discusses some of the difficulty facing a translator of poetry and of the Symphonia in particular, and explains some of her choices:

Medieval poetry in general favored hyperbole, and Hildegard in particular was no advocate of the via negativa. Her way of approaching the ineffable was to make the strongest positive statement her tongue could express. Modern English, on the other hand, is a language of understatement, and in free verse it is almost a truism that less is more. So, in order to convey the rapt intensity of Hildegard’s praise, I have actually had to tone down some of her expressions.(62)

We have some of Hildegard’s music, as well as her texts. I found both CDs and MP3s available for sale at Amazon — and in my very first venture into this modern world of buying and downloading music, I was able to purchase a single track, O Ignis Spiritus (O Fiery Spirit), to play at class tonight while I read the English verse translation to begin my class presentation on ecological pneumatology.

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2 Responses to Hildegard’s Symphonia, translated

  1. I just found the book “Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen” at the thrift store this past week and am very excited to explore her wisdom!

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