Book Review: Hildegard of Bingen: A poetic journey by Colleen Keating

Hildegard of Bingen by Colleen Keating is, as the author subtitled A Poetic Journey based on the life of the saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179).

 

BOOK REVIEW      Women’s Ink Magazine  www.womenwritersnsw.org

Hildegard of Bingen – A Poetic Journey

COLLEEN KEATING

Ginninderra Press

ISBN 978 1 76041 766 6

Reviewed by BEATRIZ COPELLO

For those who do not know about this saint’s life, let me tell you she was an incredible and fascinating woman who lived in the Middle Ages in Germany. She lived an intense life dedicated not only to religion but also to science, art, music, politics and philosophy. Hildegard founded two monasteries and maintained active correspondence with kings, emperors and popes. During all her life this mystic had visions which she attributed to divine inspiration. 

In the forward of Hildegard of Bingen, Keating says she fell in love with Hildegard when she read a book lent to her by a friend. That love is evident in each page, in each poem, in each line. Through Keating’s poetry we get to know Hildegard, her life unrolls like a magic carpet. Poem by poem the reader finds out about her dreams, hopes, aspirations as well as her frustrations. 

Keatings’s poems come alive with sensory experience, her words are confident in range and depth and they are utterly clear and articulate. The poet could have been a witness in Hildegard’s life, she knows her, she breathes her, she has a familial intimacy with the philosopher. The author undertook a journey into the mediaeval world, the poems are factual and the events meticulously researched. They contain very vivid descriptions, we can see in our mind’s eye what Hildegard saw, like in

 

‘Arrival’

Disibodenberg, high in the forest
sprawls in the clouds.
The last mile steeply uphill
Secluded. 

A white butterfly dips and lifts.
Hildegard’s gaze follows it up
catches the glint of the sun
on the first stone wall.

Stoic buildings unfold
cloistered around a cobbled garth.
Their Benedictine monastery.

A monk in cinctured black robe
walks from signposted infirmary.
From beneath his blinkered cowl
he extends a welcome.
They dismount
Jutta falls on her knees in gratitude.

In Hildegard’s life the days pass coloured by monotony and sainthood and as the days pass so is her strong and determined personality developed. Poem by  poem the reader becomes wrapped in a mantle of words, words that tell us of revelations, mysticism, determination and sainthood. Keating puts herself in Hildegard’s shoes and cleverly she is able to recreate the angst, the bravery and the defiance of this incredible woman. We enter her abode, her orchard, we get to know the sisters and her godly visions. We hear two strong voices Hildegard’s and Keating’s the poet. Writing is a labour of love, the writer not only poured her love for Hildegard in the poems but also her skills and knowledge.

Intuition, growth, earthiness, inner strength, passion, justice, wisdom, art are all words that describe what emerges from Keating’s poetry. What a great way to learn through reading poetry! The poet has not spared any detail about the life of Hildegard neither has she left out information about her sources. This fascinating book contains an Epilogue, a Chronology, a Glossary, Notes and a Bibliography. In the final notes Keating says: ‘A Poetic Journey seeks a middle ground between an accurate scholarly presentation of Hildegard and a personal interpretation of her story.’

I believe the writer has achieved her purpose offering us  the opportunity to get to know a mediaeval feminist of extraordinary creativity. Colleen Keating has created a masterpiece. 

Women’s Ink! Magazine   www.womenwritersnsw.org    March 2020 p19

A Book Review of One Woman’s Journey by Ramah Juta

 

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It is a tradition for members of the Society of Women Writers NSW to send their published books to the Editor of Women’s Ink (Judith O’Connor),for review. I was honoured to have my poetry collection Fire on Water reviewed by Judith in the Winter Edition. Now I have been invited to review Ramah Juta’s book One Woman’s Journey Published in the Summer Edition Women’s Ink November 2018

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A REVIEW BY COLLEEN KEATING

Women’s history has been almost invisible. Up till this century, the stories of women were seldom included. Virginia Woolf opened doors for women by telling her stories – she helped women to get in touch with the impact of being marginalised, exploited, and invisible. She said “As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world”

So it was with delight I received Ramah Juta’s book ‘One Woman’s Journey’ for review.

The King Protea filling the cover with its soft pink-grey petals caught my attention. This incredible flower from South Africa is an apt symbol , its name coming from one of the gods of the sea. Ramah’s story captures the reader. Through her personal story of grit and resilience, she weaves the history of a disturbing and inspiring time – the final upheaval of India, and Gandhi, the British indentured Indians to Africa, ‘Passenger-Indians’ to South Africa, Indian brides, apartheid and the hope of Mandela on the horizon, finally migration to Australia.

J. K. Rowling says : “ There is always room for story that can transport people to another place” And Ramah transports the reader of her journey with rich detail.
As a young Indian bride in South Africa she writes of her mid-wife,
‘A deep vertical furrow ran down the centre of her forehead. Wrinkles fanned out from the corners of her eyes and curved on to her cheeks. A good set of teeth was stained from chewing betel leaf. Prominent veins snaked their way down her forearms to her hands. She smiled, held my hand in her rough work-worn palms.’

We are present in India, in her formative years and also in South Africa with her sensual descriptions of colours, sounds, smells and tastes.
“ . . the green of the mango contrasting against the reddish, yellow oil. The smell of the spices lingered in the air for nearly a week.”

“I took a big sharp knife and cut the formidable fruit. i peeled its free knobbly skin , cut it into cubes with gravy, frying the onions in oil, adding tomatoes, spices, ginger and garlic. Then i added the jackfruit and let it simmer. Kripa guzzled it down.”

“Chaya flitted around in the kitchen plying him (Taroon) with fluffy dokra which he gorged with dollops of tongue tingling tamarind chutney”

I always find cultural and religious words add colour to a story and ‘One Woman’s Journey’ is no exception. The glossary at the back is valuable.

Raman quotes Khalil Gibran,
‘The entire earth is my homeland and the human family is my clan’ 

And this is as it is. With the slow transformation of the closed world of the family as the younger generations embrace a wider world – yet a rich chameleon of culture and religious ways are still embedded deeply in the psyche. An important reminder that new arrivals must never be discouraged from being their unique selves as they embrace the land of the bight red King Protea, the Waratah .

Colleen Keating is a published and award-winning poet.