On the Glorious Wonder of God’s Reign

Oh you whose wisdom dews the stars, the source
of destiny—and yet without their work
your art alone brings everything to pass, displays your strength
from which heaven's powers, in highest meekness, flee!
Your royal staff streams light of righteousness and goodness.
Rapt in wonder, I mark your tender care
for your creation's crown as for the slightest speck.
No fiery angel-mind attains your loving-kindness.
You spin a happiness-web of a thousand threads:
in all the starry spheres, in all earth-places,
all effort must be offered to the work that you begin.
Your all-providing power prepares the way.
You pull the cord to which all hearts are clinging
and bring the mind's design, through action, into being.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.
This translation is published in To Heaven's Rim: The Kingdom Poets Book of World Christian Poetry, ed. Burl Horniachek (Cascade Books, 2023).

On the Persecuted Though Irrepressible Virtue

It is the greatest honor to be unconquerable
and like Hercules oppose misfortune.
Against resistant steel the sword is honed to boldness,
gains edge, acquires that heroic glow.
The laurel leaf defies fire and thunderbolt.
Virtue will not be harmed by malice;
no! Much more it kindles pure astonishment.
Misery and misfortune become virtue's wonder-shrine.

What adorns Cyrus's victory? Weapons of resistance.
Through wars alone Philip's son wins the world,
and Caesar gains the sceptre only after battle.
Crown and throne are not for lazy victors. Therefore,
meet misery with defiance! Let nothing turn you back!
The crown already hovers over you, held in God's hands.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.

On My Many and Varied Misfortunes

As many as the hedgehog’s quills must be the weapons
that protect me everywhere against capricious fortune
and stem the wounding hand’s assault on virtue.
Each hour and moment I must face this foe
that bristles like the hedgehog with its pricks and tricks.
For virtue’s sake I must defiantly confront
all fortune’s change and mutability.
While it plagues me, it chokes on its own pleasure.

For only a short while I must contend with fortune,
then I will triumph; defeated, it will follow me in chains.
If now, for virtue’s sake, I am despised and taunted,
I pay no heed, if only I may do my work.
If God is pleased, my pain will be repaid a thousandfold,
whether on earth or at his throne of bliss.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.

Ode to a Nightingale

Hear the noble nightingale’s
sweet song
echo through the woods.
With lyric verses
she fulfills
her duty to her Maker.

In the whitened tent
of the world
she sings.
Her zeal and effort aimed 
so that God’s praise
rings out with clarity:

To you, you, you O highest refuge
I offer without words
my gratitude.
My endless longing is
to raise on high
your honour.

Every feather summons praise
and demonstrates
your gentle goodness.
Grant that, when my wings are raised,
gratitude will ring out clearly 
from my heart.

Every little worm I eat
is indeed
a gift of your sending.
Accept, before this meal, Sustainer, 
this praise offering
and refresh me, always.

Be praised from this branch
where I alit to rest
And not to praise you.
No! Yet your renown will always 
here and everywhere
be drawn forth from me.

You, lovely songstress, 
with your song
have awakened me:
I’ll sing only of God’s grace
at which I’m always 
totally amazed. 

Click here to read this poem in the original German.

Faith’s eye-witness account of God’s Gracious Heart

It glows entirely with love. It swells with longing
to bless all people. It weaves benevolence,
is draped with fruits of wonder-working artistry
and without limit surges joyfully with help and comfort.
Abundant faithfulness and utter goodness.
Desire’s flame ignites Compassion’s passion
that runs and rises to its purpose with no tinge of vanity.

And more! A multitude of ways and means compete:
which shall best serve to save mankind?
The Son’s nativity deserves triumph’s pageantry:
his birth the worthiest means of reconciliation.
The Highest says: I can no longer wait. My aching
heart, enflamed with love and grace, is breaking. 

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.

On Reverently Receiving the Most Holy Supper

O Jesus, will you enter us, who are but dust?
You Lord of Glory, throne of God Most High,
Earth's happiness and healing, Heaven's sun and crown
in whom we see the Father's loving heart unveiled!
You, who prepare the heart, inspire us with devotion;
stir up our strength in joyful notes of bliss
to rightly receive God's holy Son
before whom even angels fear and tremble.

O highest wonder! Mortals eat their Maker.
The body that is one with God, longs to be one with us.
O deepest Goodness, let us fittingly receive you!
God's love and might have never shone so brightly.
The inmost heart's blood flows into our mouths;
from deep within our hearts we praise and thank you.

This translation is published in Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (CMU Press, 2023).
Click here to read the sonnet in the original German.

On Christ’s All-holy first shedding of blood, and the sweetest Name of Jesus

Greiffenberg wrote several sonnets for the new year. This one’s title seems to refer to the fact that, in liturgical churches, January 1 traditionally marked the Circumcision of Christ. Although this feast doesn’t get much attention these days, it’s still in the liturgical calendar, but now it’s called The Naming of Jesus. Luke 2:21 says, “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (RSV).

Lovely morning glow drops crimson pearls
of childhood, and soon the Jesus-sun arises,
in whom God’s brightness mingles with love’s warmth.
His heart’s grace streams from this salvation-light.
Redemption’s vein of gold must flow, love-melted.
This wondrous child cries with desire and longing:
Will the hour of salvation ever come, when he
at last pours out his blood, a blessing-flood, for all?

Eternal godhead wrapped in a little cloud: this child.
Just as, from a great distance, the sun
seems small enough to grasp, so he, as God,
fills everything, yet will himself be cradled.
Peace will have no peace until it stills
all human misery, greed, and hate of God.

This translation is published in Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (CMU Press, 2023). Click here to read the sonnet in the original German.

A Greiffenberg printing project

Greiffenberg was not fond of winter. According to the subject index of Geistliche Sonnette, Lieder und Gedichte, she wrote seventeen poems about spring, but just two about winter: the first equates winter with adversity, the second celebrates winter’s departure. 

That second one caught our attention because of its title: “On the Departure (Praise God!) of Winter” (“Auf den/ Gott Lob! vergehenden Winter”). We already knew Greiffenberg as a woman of intense feeling, and that’s certainly the case here, where she addresses winter as the destroyer, arch-enemy of all the earth. For her–a poet who saw the world through the lens of her faith–the departure of winter was a clear metaphor for Christ’s defeat of death.

When I (Joanne) took a course called The History of the Book at Canadian Mennonite University in the 2020 winter term, I wanted to do something Greiffenberg-related for my creative project. I had already had a taste of letterpress printing and wanted to do more, so I made an illustrated pamphlet with two of Greiffenberg’s sonnets. The sonnet on the departure of winter led nicely into one of the spring sonnets. For each one, I printed the original and our translation on facing pages.

The Lino block illustrations are both spring-related: apple blossoms on the cover, and on the inside a phoenix (yes, I know, it looks like an eagle). The latter is a reference to the spring sonnet, in which spring is called the “yearly-renewing phoenix of the earth.”

I had to make some compromises on the spelling. The sets of type I was working with were meant for English text, and had none of the umlaut vowels (ä, ö, ü) or the “scharfes S” (ß), so I used anglicized spellings for these (ae, oe, ue for the vowels; ss for ß). 

If you click on a photo below, you’ll get a larger image with readable text. Both of these sonnets have been published in Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (CMU Press, 2023). Click here to read the winter sonnet in the original German, and here for the spring sonnet.

On the Peaceful Night-Time

Swiss composer Klaus Huber (1924-2017) set this poem to music in 1958. You’ll find a link to a concert video of this work below the translation. You can also find an audio recording on Apple Music.


Star-spangled throne of Heaven
and you, moon, the night’s crown!
Shine while earth’s orb
conceals from us the sun’s bright rays.


Stillness, the grave of thought!
Set worry and fretting aside
and still, still, still in me
every heart-stirring desire.


Now music in the air
sleeps in the cleft of a hollow tree.
Resting, it does not disturb
God-hon’ring desire in me.


Sweet nectar of God-given grace
that blesses me while I sleep!
Let fortune’s light and being
flow and fill me while I’m dreaming.


Shadow, friend of restfulness!
Night—refreshment after labour!
Let not darkness be so deep
it hides the noble light of heaven.


And you, source of serenity,
Lord of my heart, come near
and be my resting place. Even asleep,
I will keep true watch with you.


Close tight, my eyes,
be rich in restfulness.
But you, my spirit, stay awake
to praise your God at midnight.

Click here to read this poem in the original German.

Click here to see a concert video of Klaus Huber’s musical setting.

Comfort from Christ’s All-Conquering Ascension

Away, death and despair! Away with all misfortune!
Defiance to the devil and all his hordes!
I do not fear their might now, not one whit!
They surge against me, great streams of deceit.
When I, with trusting heart, look to my helper,
who sits at God’s right hand, I laugh at danger.
To him, my heart, its need and remedy are known.
A rescue-seeker, I send all my sighs to him.
He guides, like streams of water, every heart beat,
restrains with just one word the strongest waves;
allows, if it will serve, the water’s fall
but will not let it overflow the plain.
He makes the cloudy clear, saltwater sweet;
commands all power from his majestic seat.

This translation is published in Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (CMU Press, 2023). Click here to read the sonnet in the original German.