Tuesday Poem-Hildegard of Bingen and The Thirsty Dog

Last Tuesday (Sept 4th), I went to Poetry Live at The Thirsty Dog  in Karangahape Road Auckland.  Karen Zelas and Sugu Pillay were guest poets, along with their publisher Dr David Reiter. This was the last night of a successful New Zealand tour promoting Karen and Sugu’s first collections.The night began with a zing and a bang as we were entertained by some great rhythms from the guest band.  A tad on the loud side for yours truly I must confess.  

On Tuesday I went to a quite different venue, The Mercy Spirituality Centre in Epsom, to hear a talk on Hildegard of Bingen. One of the most extraordinary women of the middle ages, Hildegard was a poet, an author of medical books, a healer, an abbess, a visionary,  an artist and a composer. Like Archimedes and Aristotle she was also a polymath.

What has she in common with the Thirsty Dog and a modern day book launch? And what would she have thought of the band?  My answer…Hildegard could have managed a major gig herself for she was an extraordinary, self taught, composer, whose music is widely extant. Listen to a sample here. The sound is fantastic.  The illumination shown below, is one of Hildegard’s artworks. She understood creativity like few others. I think she would have thoroughly enjoyed the poetry of Karen and Sugu and the ambience of The Thirsty Dog. I did.

Hildegard  once wrote,“Like billowing clouds, Like the incessant gurgle of the brook,The longing of the spirit can never be stilled.”


Hildegard of Bingen
Benedictine Nun

O Greening Branch!

You stand in your nobility

 Like the rising dawn.
Rejoice now and exult

And deign to free the fools we are.
From our long slavery to evil

And hold out your hand
To raise us up.

This poem may seem like a fragment but realise that it was written by a nun in the twelfth century and you will see how remarkable it is. Referring to her attitude to nature, scholar Ian Johnston says, ‘Hildegard is treading a fine line here, of course, because her celebration of the natural world comes close at times to suggesting the divinity of nature or a worshipful attitude to nature, something directly contrary to Christian teaching in which nature is God’s wonderful creation but not, in itself, anything divine (the realm of the divine is over and above nature).’

 The thing I admire about her most however is that her creativity was grounded by her practicality…a great gift for an artist of any description. Finally, Hildegard was known for her ability to make people happy.  Suffering does not appear to be part of her vocabulary.  As a healer she was known to reprimand those who practiced self flagellation as she treated their wounds!

Karen Zelas

Back to Karen and Sugu.  Two of Karen’s poems have featured on Tuesday Poem recently. Karen reads with a quiet confidence that begs one to listen to her words.  Jeremy, the MC for last Tuesday night thanked her for her beautiful poems. On the back of her book, poet, James Norcliffe describes her poetry as having  ‘meticulous  invocation of place, of nature and of the human heart…..’

It was great to hear Sugu read the poem ‘Abandoned Geography’  which had appeared on Tuesday Poem that very morning.  She told me of it’s inspiration…her house had been badly damaged in the Christchurch earthquake. She too reads with a confidence and assurance which captures her audience.  Peter Simpson, author and editor, says of Sugu’s poetry ” Cities, countries,cultures, customs, jostle in her poems from a mind well-stocked with images stories and quotations from myriad sources.”   She can be heard reading at this site.

Sugu Pillay

Karen and Sugu’s books can be obtained here.

 As for Hildegard of Bingen, on May 10th 2012 Pope Benedict XVI  formally declared her to be a canonized saint.

May she watch over all poets.

And now please go to The Tuesday Hub, edited this week by Orchid Tierney and check out the side bar full of international poets for a myriad of delights.

8 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem-Hildegard of Bingen and The Thirsty Dog”

  1. An interesting conjunction of poetry – the twelfth century and the twenty-first. Both are awesome. But I was particularly interested in the music after seeing the sheet of music behind her – and I have only one thing to say, “Move over Enya.” Cheers.

  2. That was a fascinating post, Helen – and I’m especially glad to hear that Karen’s and Sugu’s reading went well – when I did the corresponding reading on my and Keith’s tour in 2011, I was distinctly nervous about reading in the Big Bad City, but I found that Aucklanders weren’t so scary after all!

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