You will want to read the biographical material on Hadewijch in Petroff's Medieval Women's Visionary Literature as a starting point. After that, it may be most useful to familiarize yourself with the contemporary courtly love literary tradition which Hadewijch drew upon. Just as it was necessary to read the biblical Song of Songs in order to understand Bernard and Richard, it is necessary to read in the courtly love tradition to understand Hadewijch. One of the things you will want to be looking for is how the love tradition Hadewijch draws upon (secular rather than "religious") affects her own mystical understanding and mystical expression. Is her love really of a "different kind" than that of Bernard? You may want to think particularly about how Hadewijch's poems compare to Bernard's sermons.

If you haven't read it before, you certainly will want to take a look at Andreas Capellanus' twelfth-century Art of Courtly Love. For the uninitiated, let me stress that while the text was clearly intended as satire, at the same time it demonstrates that a well-understood "cult of Love" existed that could be satirized.

You may be wondering what kind of connection is to be found between beguines like Hadewijch and courtly culture! Originally "courtly culture" emerged within the context of the courts of the nobility in Europe. While some beguines may have come from the lesser nobility, the majority would have come from the growing urban "middle classes." But by the thirteenth century, the love poetry/romance tradition that emerged first in a courtly context may have extended to urban culture as well, where are a growing literate public (literate in the vernacular, that is-- a new definition of literate) formed a ready audience.

I am including here an excerpt from Guillaume de Lorris's thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose, taken from the Charles Dahlberg translation (University Press of N. England, 1986), pp. 61-63.

line 2225:
Now I want to recall briefly what I have told you so that you will remember, for a speech is less difficult to retain when it is short. Whoever wants to make Love his master must be courteous and without pride; he should keep himself elegant and gay and be esteemed for his generosity.

Next, I ordain that night and day, in a penitential spirit and without turning back you place your thought on love, that you think of it always, without ceasing, and that you recall the sweet hour whose joy dwells so strongly in you. And in order that you may be a pure lover, I wish and command you to put your heart in a single place so that it be not divided, but whole and without deceit, for I do not like division. Whoever divides his heart among several places has a little bit of it everywhere. But I do not in the least fear him who puts his whole heart in one place; therefore I want you to do so. Take care, however, that you do not lend it, for if you had done so, I would think it a contemptible act; give it rather as a gift with full rights of possession, and you will have greater merit. The favor shown in lending something is soon returned and paid for, but the reward for something given as a gift should be great. Then give it fully and freely, and do so with an easy manner, for one must prize that which is given with a pleasant countenance. I would not give one pea for a gift that one gave in spite of himself.

line 2265:
When you have given your heart away, as I have been exhorting you to do, things will happen to you that are painful and hard for lovers to bear. Often, when you remember your love, you will be forced to leave other people so that they might not notice the suffering which racks you. You will go alone to a place apart; then sighs and laments, shivers, and many other sorrows will come to you. You will be tormented in several ways, one hour hot, another cold, ruddy at one time and pale at another. You have never had any fever as bad, neither daily nor quartan agues. Before this fever leaves you, you will indeed have tested the sorrows of love. Now it will happen many times, as you are thinking, that you will forget yourself and for a long time will be like a mute image that neither stirs nor moves, without budging a foot, a hand, or a finger, without moving your eyes or speaking. At the end of this time you will come back in your memory and will give a start of fright upon returning, just like a man who is afraid, and you will sigh from the depths of your heart, for you well know that thus do those who have tested the sorrows that now so torment you.

line 2299:
Next it is right for you to remember that your sweetheart is very far away from you. Then you will say: "Oh God, how miserable I am when I do not go where my heart is! Why do I send my heart thus along? I think constantly of that place and see nothing of it. I cannot send my eyes after my heart, to accompany it; and if my eyes do not do so, I attach no value to the fact that they see. Must they be held here? No, they should rather go to visit what the heart so desires. I can indeed consider myself a sluggard when I am so far from my heart. God help me , I hold myself a fool. Now I shall go; no longer will I leave my heart. I shall never be at ease until I see some sign of it." Then you will set out on your way, but under such conditions that you will often fail of your design and spend your steps in vain. What you seek you will not see, and you will have to return, thoughtful and sad, without doing anything more.

line 2325:
Then you will be in deep misery and be visited again by sighs, pangs, and shivers, that prick more sharply than a hedgehog. Let him who does not know this fact ask it of those who are loyal lovers. You will not be able to calm your heart, but will continue to go around trying to see by chance what you long for so much. And if you can struggle until you attain a glimpse, you will want to be very intent on satisfying and feasting your eyes. As a result of the beauty that you see, great joy will dwell in your heart; know too, that by looking you will make your heart fry and burn, and as you look you will always quicken the burning fire. The more anyone looks upon what he loves, the more he lights and burns his heart. This fat lights and keeps blazing the fire that makes men love. By custom every lover follows the fire that burns him and lights him. When he feels the fire from close by, he goes away by approaching closer. The fire consists in his contemplation of his sweetheart, who makes him burn. The closer he stays to her the more avid he is for love. Wise men and simpletons all follow this rule: he who is nearer the fire burns more. (line 2358)